Italy to auction 5 new channels

Chris Forrester


AGCOM, Italy’s telecoms regulator, is to auction off capacity for 5 new digital channels. The auction is part of Italy’s transition from analogue to all-digital broadcasting. But the plan has already raised flags at EU level.

The scheme allows for 3 channels to be specifically reserved for new players, while two can be bid for by existing broadcasters, although broadcasters (such as RAI or Berlusconi-backed Mediaset) which already dominate Italian TV can each only bid for one of the new frequencies. This might allow Sky Italia to successfully complete, although the AGCOM auction is open to all European broadcasters.

The European Commissioners for competition and media respectively, Neelie Kroes and Viviane Reding, welcomed the Italian decision, noting "they are about to take new measures aimed at ensuring effective entry by new operators into the Italian broadcasting market and at allowing the expansion of existing smaller players." The European Commission had opened an infringement proceeding against Italy in July 2006, asking it to modify a 2004 media law, which permitted only active (and thus Italian) analogue operators to apply for digital-TV frequencies.

Agcom’s outline conditions are that the act provides that 21 DVB-T national networks, which are to be subdivided as follows:

a) Eight networks devoted to the conversion of existing analogue networks. The existing national operators will have sufficient transmission capacity allocated for the broadcasting of programmes in standard definition and high definition. Each operator will be guaranteed at least one multiplex.
b) Eight digital channels will be devoted to single frequency conversion of current digital networks that use the less efficient multifrequency arrangements. Each operator will be entitled to convert an existing digital network.
c) The outcome of the conversion of the national television system will produce a ‘dividend’ of five national networks, as referred to above. The dividend will be available for bidders within criteria designed to ensure an open competition and the development of new programmes.

Tenders will be admitted to all those involved in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Further measures are being implemented to increase the level of competition in the national television system.

The five lots made under the tender (i.e. 5 national TV networks) will be divided into two parts:

1) A, equal to three lots, reserved for new entrants. Operators who have two or more national analogue channels may not bid;
2) Part B, of two lots, open to any bidder.

Any offers will be subject to a cap. The cap is set at a level that would prevent any bidder obtaining more than five national multiplexes.

No date has been set for the auction.