In the legislative period of the Colombian Congress that begins in March, the two remaining debates will be held for the approval of the ICT modernization bill promoted by the government.
In order to improve connectivity throughout the country and to update the regulation of the ICT sector and of public television and radio, recognizing them as a single sector, the Colombian government proposed a bill called Modernization of the ICT sector, the which generated a great controversy since it was presented last September.
In its justification, the project argues that "For decades the sectors of: electronics and computing, telecommunications, and media and content production had clearly differentiated and independent value chains, however, the development of Broadband Internet and the appearance of multifunctional terminals, propitiated conditions for the emergence of an environment of convergence giving way to a digital ecosystem, which is understood as the set of infrastructures and benefits, associated with the provision of content and services through the Internet. This set is integrated by means of information technologies and communications, where the boundaries between the business segments of the industry are not clearly defined. "
To achieve this, one of the objectives of the project is to change the allocation form of the radioelectric spectrum, extending the award period from 10 to 30 years, granting benefits to companies that deploy infrastructure to areas where there is no connectivity or is of low quality, in order to attract more investment from companies in the sector.
As far as television is concerned, the project proposes substantial changes related to the regulating entity and public media. Among others, it proposes the elimination of the National Television Authority, ANTV, and provides new regulatory tools to the Communications Regulation Commission, which would become a convergent regulator and the ICT Ministry will assume the functions of inspection, surveillance and control.
It also raises a new way of financing public television, one of the aspects that has generated the most controversy. The project creates the Single Fund for Information and Communication Technologies, which would unite FonTV funds managed by ANTV and FonTIC.
The CRC will consist of five full-time commissioners for fixed institutional periods of four years, not re-eligible, with voice and vote, not subject to the provisions governing the administrative career. At least one commissioner must be an electronic or telecommunications engineer, a commissioner will be a lawyer and a commissioner will be an economist.
The Commissioners will be appointed as follows:
a) Two members appointed by the President of the Republic.
b) Two members elected by the President of the Republic through a public call, in which any interested citizen who complies with the requirements of this article may apply.
c) A member elected by the President of the Republic from a list of representatives nominated by public television channels.
According to ICT minister of Colombia, Sylvia Constain, the law that rules in Colombia is outdated for the new realities of the sector, so it is urgent to approve the new bill. He also assured that this project is based on the examples of successful regulations from different countries, as well as on sector studies carried out between 2016 and 2018 by the National Planning Department.
The controversies by law
There are many controversies that this bill has had, which even forced the government to postpone its intention to approve it with an urgent message to Congress in December, due to the discontent of many sectors that have been affected.
The main criticisms of the project have been by topics such as:
- The exploitation and use of the radio spectrum. The government is accused of wanting to benefit the big companies in the sector.
- The independence of the convergent regulator. The OECD recommended that Colombia have a convergent operator that is independent of the government. As the designation of the commissioners of the CRC is proposed, the President will choose the five members.
- The financing of public media. The ANTV has strengthened public television in recent years by financing projects by FonTV. With the integration of FonTIC and FonTV, now regional channels will have to compete with more projects to obtain resources.
- The definition of fair considerations for operators of telecommunications services such as cable and television services. As well as the definition of policies for the promotion of audiovisual content for education and culture.
- The revision of the television model and public media for the country.
The renowned television critic, Ómar Rincon, said about the project that "it is not convergence because it does not include OTT platforms; it does not have content sovereignty, it does not speak about content, it does not protect the national industry in content production and it leaves the OTT without regulation of content; and the most serious is that it is governmentalized, because the contents will be handled by the ICT Ministry ".
The agreements reached
In order to be able to approve the ICT modernization project at the beginning of the 2019 term, the government, with the minister Sylvia Constain at the head, has been in charge of seeking agreements with different sectors on the differences. For this, between January and February, 11 carried out socialization meetings for the project in the same number of cities in the country. He also agreed to download from 30 to 20 years the spectrum concession, extendable according to the conditions of the moment.
On the financing of public media, it was agreed that at least the maximum amount of resources that, since the creation of the Fund for the Development of Television and Content (FonTV) in 2012, will be maintained annually by the latter, will be maintained annually. to RTVC and regional television channels.
Likewise, at least the average amount allocated to RTVC by the Information and Communication Technologies Fund (FonTIC) will be maintained, since its creation, for public sound broadcasting. These amounts will be adjusted in the same percentage of annual variation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In addition, the Minister said that a policy for public media will be studied, in order to strengthen them.
On the independent convergent regulator, so far no change has been applied. The Minister stressed that the recommendations of the OECD are that, recommendations and is not mandatory for countries. In addition, the government will guarantee the election of suitable persons for this new regulatory entity and that with the definition of the legal nature of the Entity, which satisfies the constitutional criteria related to the configuration of administrative independence.
While the government has reached consensus on different controversial points of the bill, its path in Congress will not be easy, since there are still many sectors against and the message of urgency in which the Minister insists also generates discomfort.