|Latin America II 1996
|Telecommunications, the driving force behind development
|Carlos Ruiz Sacristan
|Secretary of State for Transport and Communications
Telecommunications is one of the most dynamic and major growth areas in the economies of the countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In Mexico, the growth of telecommunications was seven times greater than that of the economy as a whole between 1991 and 1994.
Over the last few decades, Mexico has made great strides in the field of telecommunications; nevertheless, there are still great challenges to be faced, considering that the services available are still inadequate and do not offer the variety and quality which society demands. For this reason, and with the aim of encouraging the modernisation of telecommunications, the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico was reformed in 1995 to allow private individuals the opportunity to participate in the operation of satellite communications. Up until that time this had been an activity reserved exclusively for the State. On 7th June 1995 a new Federal Telecommunications Law was placed on the Statute Book. Its main objective is to establish the basis for private participation in the sector, which will widen the infrastructure and encourage the provision of services of a higher quality and greater diversity, and at low costs. At the same time, the State maintained control over the radio spectrum and the orbital positions assigned to the country, as well as the satellite capacity necessary for the provision of social services and for national security networks. Within this new framework, seven concessions for public telecommunications networks have been granted since 1995, representing an investment of around five thousand million dollars and the direct creation of more than thirteen thousand jobs. The new concessions include long distance telephone services in order to encourage competition within this service area from August 1995 onwards. In the same way, the. elements necessary for the granting of concessions for urban public networks intended for cable television and local telephone services, amongst other things, are being developed. Satellite System The public organisation Telecommunications of Mexico (Telecomm) acts as the supplier for Mexican communications satellite services, including the value added digital networks and the transmission of data in packets. Over the course of the year there are plans for the separation of satellite communications from Telecomm, and the creation of a new industry which will take on the provision of these services, as a first practical step towards allowing private capital into this field. Telecomm’s system is made up of three satellites in geostationary positions. These satellites operate at 63 per cent of their capacity, with a distribution of 42 per cent for television and radio companies and 58 per cent for voice, data and image networks. Furthermore, the satellites have landing rights in 16 countries in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Mexican Government’s telecommunications programme for the year 2000 includes measures to ensure that satellite services will be fully competitive, similar to those which are already in existence in the countries with which Mexico has the strongest commercial ties, and that they will satisfy the requirements of both users and providers of services efficiently, with quality, opportunity and competitive prices. Radio communications Within the field of radiocommunications there will be greater coverage and higher quality of service as a result of the reordering of the radio spectrum, which will increase efficiency, and boost the wide range of services provided with competitive quality and prices. In 1995, concessions were granted for specialised fleet radiocommunication services as well as services for the radiolocation of people and vehicles, in order to increase services and coverage. This made it possible to reduce the existing timelag. Cable and Pay-per-View Television Only 8 per cent of homes in Mexico have access to cable and pay-per-view television, which means that it is necessary to increase the number of concessions and to install the required infrastructure of broadband cable systems to allow for greater access to this type of service. As far as television and radio were concerned, 1995 was devoted to the regularization of the outstanding concessions and licences as well as the modernisation of the existing infrastructure which is being carried out to increase coverage. In the same way, public telecommunications network concessions were granted to provide cable television and pay-per-view television services. It is the first time that these concessions have been handed over to be run as public telecommunications networks. There is a possibility that the aforementioned systems may in the future be interconnected with other public telecommunications networks or provide, through their networks, services such as digital music, data transmission, telephone and emergency services. Within the field of non-restricted radio and television there will be a greater number of concessionary companies, and this will encourage greater competition, coverage, quality and efficiency in services for urban areas with a low population density, but especially in rural areas. At the same time it will provide a diversity of high quality contents, promoting culture and education. Telephone Services At the present moment 86 per cent of the Mexican telephone system’s telephone lines are digital. As far as the long distance trunk network is concerned, it has more than 30 thousand kilometres of optical fibre which connect the country’s 54 main cities. By the end of 1995 coverage had reached a total of 8.8 million lines, which represents a density of 9.8 lines per 100 inhabitants. In January 1996, the agreement for the granting of concessions for the installation, operation or commercial use of cable networks for local telephone systems (the first step in the process of putting the concessions up for tender) was issued. The seven concessions for long distance telephone systems handed over up to now have been granted to consortia in which some of the largest companies in the world, such as AT&T, MCI Communications, GTE and Telefónica de Espana, are participating as partners with Mexican banks and companies. Other large companies such as France Telecomm and Sprint already have operations in Mexico through the medium of Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex). The following events are scheduled to take place in the telephone systems sector over the next few months: · August 1996: A regulatory body for telephone systems will be set up, with technical and practical autonomy. · August 1996: Start of the provision of basic long distance telephone services. · January 1997: launch of the interconnection between the public networks of basic long distance telephone systems. At the end of the millennium the telephone service, both local and long distance, will have consolidated as one of the most competitive branches in the sector, by incorporating new Mexican and overseas operators with state of the art technology. This will give the system greater coverage and penetration, comparable to that of countries with a similar income per capita but which have a greater density of telephones. The quality will also have been improved and the variety of services increased, with prices which are competitive when compared to those of our main trading partners. In the particular case of rural telephone systems, we shall seek to increase the coverage for villages of between 100 and 500 inhabitants by the use of state of the art technology. Through an unprecedented effort, development in this area will be carried out with the key aim of breaking down the isolation of those groups who are on the fringes of society, by offering them access to opportunities for better health, education and regional development. The programme which has been designed to do this is scheduled to cover approximately 4 thousand communities in 1996. Over the next few years the ambition of a telecommunications service for all will have achieved its first objective – every industrial site and every home having a telephone. In addition it will have become a means of access to all types of information services: voice, sound, images, video, text or data. For this reason, the Mexican Government will be promoting the development of a computer infrastructure and will encourage interoperability and interconnection, both in the existing networks and in those which will be set up to take advantage of the information superhighway, with due respect to the confidentiality of users and security of copyright. Concusion The telecommunications sector in Mexico has a special appeal as an investment vehicle due to its high rate of growth. The new legal framework, which is now more up-to-date, offers security to investors. Telecommunications are already an important force driving the development of the country and will become even more so. The changes in the law undertaken in 1995 will mean that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Mexico will have one of the most dynamic and competitive communications systems in the world.