«Starting next week, the federal government will begin to give away HD digital TVs every three seconds. The average will drop even further to one every two seconds in 2015…»
Gabriel Sosa Plata* / Mexico / October 2014
Published in El Universal on October 13, 2014.
While the country is experiencing the beginning of an intense electoral process, an army of federal employees and, we would think, temporary contractors will try to distribute 2.3 million TVs between October 2014 and early January 2015. The bidding process for the equipment, which ended last month, was won by four companies: HTCJ, Diamond Electronics, Elektra and Komarket. This equipment, which will bear the logo “Moving Mexico,” will be distributed in 415 locations including the cities of Monterrey, Guadalajara, Querétaro, Morelia and Mexicali.
Later, between January and September 2015, in the midst of the electoral war, an additional 11.4 million TVs will be distributed in the rest of the country, including the Federal District. New bidding processes will be prepared for that period. As is well known, the goal is to outfit 13.8 million households with this equipment, though the Work Program for the Transition to TDT only includes the provision of 12.6 million devices.
Whichever the number, it is a very ambitious goal and of course one that is very costly for the Mexican people. It is ambitious because a total of 30,263 TVs will be distributed each day between October 20, 2014 and January 4, 2015. During 2015, there will be a period of approximately 270 days in which 42,222 TVs will have to be distributed each day. This means that a household will receive this gift nearly every two seconds. This does not consider the days leading up to the elections or election day, as it would be illegal to distribute the TVs at that point.
It will also be a costly goal because this equipment could run over 31 billion pesos, 5 billion more than was estimated. Here is why: the government has invested 277 million pesos for 120,000 devices, of which 93,907 were distributed between May and July 2014 in 12 municipalities of Tamaulipas, four municipalities in Nuevo León and one in Coahuila. Each device should have cost 2,300 pesos, but the government says that they cost 980 pesos. The numbers don’t add up.
In the bidding process from last month, the price for each device was set at 2,200 pesos. If we base our calculations on the official numbers, there was an 11% increase. Thanks to columnist Alberto Aguilar at EL UNIVERSAL (and not the government), we know that this increase took place because Chinese-made pieces increased in price and this was added to storage, transport and safety expenses that had not been an issue with the first stage. However, these numbers don’t add up either because a budget of 5.821 billion pesos was allocated for the acquisition and distribution of 2.3 million devices, which means that each TV cost a little over 2,530 pesos and not 2,200.
If we base our numbers on the official price of 2,200 pesos per TV and consider that 11.4 million devices have yet to be distributed, this transition looks like it will cost over 31 billion pesos (230 million during the first stage, 5.821 billion during the second and over 25 billion for the remaining stages). Add to this hours and labor of Sedesol and SCT staff, who will step away from their duties in order to distribute TVs and provide extra support. In conclusion, we have a confusing and multi-million dollar expense that we should not deduce here but that should be the subject of completely transparent reporting by the Communications and Transportation Secretariat (CTS).
Shutoff in 2015?
Regardless of the political reading of these gifts, the federal government has emphatically insisted that it will meet the goal of outfitting 90% of households with digital TVs during the time frames that were set out for the initiative. This would allow the Federal Telecommunications Institute (FTI) to organize the analog shutoff. However, there is uncertainty in the sector due to the delays (of at least three months) in the CTS work plan, the complications that could emerge in the new bidding processes and the multi-million peso budget, which must be approved by Congress.
The problem is aggravated by the absence of publicity campaigns designed to inform the population of this technological transition (in which there is also failure on the part of the CTS) and information on the progress made with the devices in the homes so that the FTI can schedule shut-offs by city. As such, the telecommunications regulatory agency had to again modify the TDT policy in September and adjust the schedule that was set out in the document.
In regard to the TV stations, Televisa, Televisión Azteca and Multimedios Televisión have been prepared for this technological change for some time. This is not the case with a good number of public TV providers that form part of various state governments. Without additional budgets and the support of the federation to go digital, their situation is uncertain. They have stated as much at the meetings of the Cultural and Educational TV and Radio Broadcasters Network. According to a June 2014 FTI report, only 28 of the over 250 public TV channels currently broadcast using digital technology. The lag is enormous.
Will it be public TV and not a lack of penetration of digital equipment that leads to the delay of the analogue shutoff date? That is possible. However, it will not be the main cause. The absence of true public policy and planning is what has contributed to this failed and clumsy transition to TDT at an enormous cost to the country.
Close Public Radio Alliance
Last week, the Tenth International Radio Bienal, which was organized by Radio Educación with the support of various institutions, ended on a high note. During the event, the Second Meeting of Public Radio Stations from Central America and Mexico was held during which representatives of those entities agreed to consolidate the exchange of content, work on migratory issues and broadcaster and producer training, and promote joint actions for celebrate the Day of Radio every February 13.
*Professor and researcher at Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Uam-Xochimilco)
and communications analyst.