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New turn for Tijuana's transition to digital broadcasting

Mexican federal government seeks to postpone analog shutdown

Tijuana's switch to digital television was celebrated Tuesday--but two days later Mexico's federal government asked for a return to analog broadcasts through Baja California's July 7 elections.
Tijuana's switch to digital television was celebrated Tuesday--but two days later Mexico's federal government asked for a return to analog broadcasts through Baja California's July 7 elections. — Sandra Dibble

— This city’s tumultuous transition to digital television took a new turn Thursday, as Mexico’s federal government urged a reversal and return to analog broadcasts through Baja California’s July 7 elections.

The switch has left thousands of households without television reception, and prompted demands that Mexico’s independent Federal Telecommunications Commission postpone efforts to convert the city to digital broadcasts.

“This is not the most opportune moment for the analog shutdown,” Mexico’s Communications and Transportation Secretary, Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, said after flying in to Tijuana to personally deliver news of the petition. “There should be no shutdown during electoral periods.”

On Tuesday, Tijuana became the first city in Mexico — and the first in Latin America — to end analog broadcasting and adopt entirely digital transmissions. But the measure has left many residents with blank television screens, as they lack converter boxes that would allow them to receive digital signals.

Some 30 countries, including the United States, have made the transition to all-digital broadcasts, which offer a range of benefits — from clearer signals to expansion of programming to opportunities for increased wireless coverage.

But the issue in Mexico has become entwined with political campaiging as Baja California voters prepare to choose a new governor, five new mayors and replace the state legislature. The chief argument for postponing the switch is that many potential voters will not be informed as they prepare to cast their ballots.

On Wednesday, Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante petitioned Cofetel, as the federal commission is known, for postponement of the measure until after the election. He was joined by Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute as well as Baja California’s Electoral and Citizens Participation Institute. On Thursday night, Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, also weighed in, endorsing the federal government’s stance.

Exactly how many households have lost their signals has been a matter of some dispute, but those most affected by the transition are residents some of the poorest neighborhoods who lack cable reception or digital televisions.

In recent months, Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Commission, or Cofetel, oversaw the delivery of more than 192,000 converter boxes across Tijuana. The commission claims that 93 percent of households now have access to digital brodcasts.

By the commission’s calculations, 14,324 still need conversion boxes, but Mayor Bustamante and other critics have said the numbers are much higher, and say numerous affected viewers in neighboring Tecate and Rosarito Beach have not been taken into consideration.

Cofetel acts autonomously of Mexico’s federal government, and is responsible for carrying out Mexico’s conversion to digital broadcasts by Dec. 31, 2015. Cofetel’s president, Mony de Swaan, said at a ceremony in Tijuana on Tuesday, that “there is no going back.”

On Thursday, de Swaan said “There’s always going to be a reason not to move ahead with the transition,” during a nationally broadcast radio interview with journalist Carmen Aristegui on Noticias MVS. Plans by Cofetel to launch the conversion in 2011 and 2012 were postponed when Mexico’s Congress declined to authorize funds due to elections. “We’ve already lost three years,” de Swaan said.

The Cofetel, which has the final word, has scheduled a meeting Friday to decide the issue.

In the meantime, Mexico’s federal government has stepped in to guarantee that everyone will receive a converter box. Ruiz, the communications and transportation secretary, said the president has instructed “that 100 percent of those who qualify for the program and ask for a converter can receive one free of charge.”



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