Zero Hour Looms for Colombia Informals

Bogota, Colombia -- Colombia's television regulatormust narrow down by about a quarter the number of bids that have been submitted for pay-TVlicenses here.

The National Television Commission (CNTV) will eliminate 46of the 164 bids submitted for the 124 licenses it will award.

The situation is especially tense for the country'smany unlicensed operators, known as "informals," which have submitted bids.Failing to obtain licenses would quash their plans to operate as legitimate companies.

"We either win or we win," said Henry Reyes, vicepresident of Servisatélite S.A., Bogotá's leading informal cable operator, which isbidding on a regional license covering central Colombia.

Since the end of August, the CNTV staff has been busyevaluating companies' bids, assigning them "points" that will determine ifthey win a license.

The license winners will be announced after Oct. 15, CNTVsources said. Bidders will then have five days to contest the points assigned by thecommission.

Most of Colombia's 1,000 large, informal cableoperators are bidding for both municipal and regional licenses. Several consortiums havebeen formed to bring together informals.

Some informals have even teamed up with license-holdingcompanies to bid on franchises. Others are planning to simply leave the industry, sellingtheir equipment and facilities to license winners.

It is unclear how many informals will continue to operateif they do not win licenses, or whether the conflict-ridden CNTV will have the ability tocrack down on them.

CNTV chairman Jorge Hernández, however, emphasized theagency's anti-piracy commitment. "You can count on" the commissionenforcing regulations, he said. "We will strictly enforce the law."

The Colombian cable operators' association has said itwill help law-enforcement officials in their effort to eliminate piracy.