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Mexican president moves to dissolve telecom regulator

Mexico's president this week presented a sweeping set of proposed constitutional reforms that include the abolition of some key regulatory bodies, including that overseeing telecoms.

Mary Lennighan

February 8, 2024

3 Min Read

Funnily enough, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT), Mexico's telecoms regulator for the past decade, does not think this is a great idea.

The IFT confirmed in a statement that a package of legal and constitutional reforms submitted by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador includes a proposal to get rid of the IFT as an autonomous regulator and transfer its powers back to the government.

That confirmation was in itself helpful. The reform package is being widely reported in Mexico and further afield, but a transcript of the president's press conference does not include a specific reference to the IFT. It could well be that it is covered by point 20 in the president's address, in which he proposed "to eliminate all dependencies...and onerous and elitist so-called autonomous organisations...created during the neoliberal period with the sole purpose of protecting private businesses against the public interest."

There's a helpful overview of the overall reform package – which includes reducing the size of the legislature, introducing an elected supreme court, and initiatives on workers' pensions, to name a few key measures in addition to weakening and/or disassembling key regulators – here, from BNAmericas. The news service notes that as well as the IFT, transparency institute INAI, competition watchdog Cofece, and energy and hydrocarbon regulators CRE and CNH are also in the firing line.

But since we're a telecoms news site we'll focus on the IFT.

"This Institute considers that the proposal represents a setback to the detriment of users and audiences, given that it implies returning to a model that proved to have serious limitations to achieve, among other objectives, the entry of more competitors, greater legal certainty and ensuring a level playing field so that more Mexicans would have more telecommunications services at a lower price and with higher quality, as well as more radio and television stations where a greater diversity of voices and opinions could be expressed," the IFT said in a statement, translation courtesy of Google.

"Constitutional autonomy was essential after long years of having markets with little competition and high prices," the regulator said, explaining the rationale for its existence before sharing a raft of figures on the change it claims to have overseen since it came into being in 2013.

Between June 2013 and December 2023 communications prices as a whole declined by 31.7%, while inflation was at 62.2% during that period; number portability was introduced; and the number of mobile broadband connections in Mexico increased fourfold to 120.4 million from 27.4 million, the IFT said, to share a couple of highlights.

Mexico is not the most competitive telecoms market in the world, with incumbent America Movil still proving very dominant. But it has changed a lot over the past 10 years. And in this day and age it's very difficult to make the case for not having an autonomous regulatory body in a major telecoms market.

The IFT can have been under no illusion about how the president feels about it though. This is far from being the first time he has suggested closing it down. In 2020 Lopez Obrador backed a proposal to merge the IFT with Cofece and the CRE in a money-saving bid, as per this Reuters report, and has repeatedly talked about getting rid of autonomous regulators all together, including in early 2021, according to the AP.

Clearly the IFT is worried about its future, but it's important to note that Lopez Obrador is not in a position to get rid of it just yet.

As the FT explains, his Morena party does not currently have the votes to pass the changes, but the country goes to the polls in June, so he may then be able to go ahead. The president himself is approaching the end of his six-year term in office, but making these proposals now enables him to set the agenda for the election campaign.

Essentially, we're likely to hear a lot about the proposals, both for and against, for some months, but we won't have a clear view on the IFT's continued existence until later in the year.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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