EconomyFinancialChronicle of a weakening announced at the IFT

Chronicle of a weakening announced at the IFT

The Federal Telecommunications Institute is fighting a battle to maintain its autonomy. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sought to merge it with the Secretariat of Infrastructure, Communications and Transportation (SICT) and although last week the president accepted that he no longer has time to modify the Constitution, in order to eliminate it or add it to some dependency government, right now the telecommunications regulatory body has its hands tied.

The IFT has had budget cuts in the last three years. From 2018 to 2021, it went from 1,998 million pesos to 1,510 million pesos, which represented a drop of 24.4%. The decrease in its annual spending led the regulatory body to propose the cancellation or postponement of projects in 2020 to adjust to what was assigned to it.

In addition to a budget cut, the regulatory body faces a human resource crisis. On February 29, 2020, Gabriel Contreras ended his term as commissioner president of the IFT, but in the midst of a paralysis in bureaucratic procedures due to the pandemic, the assignment of new positions within the institute was stopped. Adolfo Cuevas temporarily took over the reins of the telecommunications regulatory body, as the commissioner with the most time within the Institute. So the Plenary was left with only six of the seven commissioners that should integrate it and with a lot of obstacles ahead.

One of the biggest challenges for the IFT at the start of the pandemic was to legitimize the interim presidency. “At first the power of Cuevas within the IFT was questioned, but he has all the faculties and power of a commissioned president of the Institute even if it is only interim,” says Lucía Ojeda, a partner at the Mexican law firm SAI Law & Economics and an expert in economic competition.

In June of that same year, Senator Ricardo Monreal presented an initiative to merge the autonomous bodies: IFT, Federal Commission for Economic Competition (Cofece) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE), arguing that they are a burden for the public treasury.

This fact triggered a new crisis within the IFT, not only because of the nature of the initiative, but also because Vladimir Rosas Pablo, director attached to the office of commissioner Cuevas, appeared as the author of the project to eliminate the telecommunications regulatory body, through of the creation of the National Institute of Markets and Competition for Welfare (INMECOB).

The IFT commissioners expressed their rejection and loss of confidence in the interim president of the institute, Adolfo Cuevas, for his presumed participation in the initiative of the senator, Ricardo Monreal. Therefore, they asked to clarify the alleged involvement of officials from the same body in the development of the initiative.

The interim president explained that the document found was information that Senator Monreal himself had requested from the Institute. However, the hostility within grew, so the commissioners decided to modify the Organic Statute to remove from Cuevas the power to appoint or change IFT officials. But a year later, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation returned this power to the interim president of the organization.

Citizen’s watchdog

Although the current administration wants to eliminate the IFT, it also wants the Institute to become a citizen watchdog. In 2020, the Chamber of Deputies approved the creation of the National Registry of Mobile Telephony Users (Panaut), which would force the 129.8 million users who currently have a telephone line to provide their personal and biometric data.

The IFT will be in charge of creating and updating the mobile phone registry, which it estimates will require a budget of more than 109 million pesos during the first year of its creation. While for the subsequent years, subtracting the initial investments, it will need 88 million. In addition, it is required to create 150 places that will imply an investment of 55 million pesos.

Given this situation, the IFT decided to initiate a constitutional controversy because the Panaut will represent a large outlay for the Institute, which is already facing a monetary adjustment due to the ‘austerity’ policy and because it goes against its constitutional mandate to achieve access to telecommunications services.

This controversy once again put the IFT in crisis, since experts and civil society criticized the Institute for putting economics before the rights to privacy and data protection in the controversy.

The IFT was forced by the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) to present the constitutional controversy to the citizens so that they could verify what it prioritized as an argument to reverse the creation of the Panaut.

One less commissioner and a new presidency

In the midst of a crisis of public image, internal confidence and budget, the IFT was faced in 2021 with the departure of another commissioner: Mario Fromow Rangel, who at the end of his term left the Institute’s Plenary with only five commissioners out of seven. that must be. Five is the minimum necessary for the Institute to operate correctly.

Now, almost a year after Fromow’s departure, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador showed total disinterest in submitting proposals for commissioners so that the IFT Plenary can operate correctly. But last week López Obrador commented that he already contemplates some profiles for said vacancies.

For Elena Estavillo, former IFT commissioner, it is good news that the president is contemplating sending appointments of commissioners to the Senate so that the IFT has a full plenary session and does not see its ability to exercise powers limited. However, he warns that López Obrador has made it very clear that the assignment of profiles is against his will and due to the impossibility that he warns to disappear the autonomous bodies that require constitutional reform.

It is necessary for the president to send his proposals for a commissioner, since the IFT is 6 days away from having only four commissioners within its Plenary. Adolfo Cuevas, current interim commissioner president of the IFT, will end his term on February 28 of this year.

If the Senate of the Republic does not determine who will be in charge of the Institute, there will be a second internship, in charge of Javier Juárez Mojica, who is the official with the longest seniority –six years– within the Plenary of the Institute.

However, even with Juárez Mojica, the Plenum of the Institute would have only four commissioners out of seven, which would put issues of resolutions of barriers to competition at risk, they would not be able to issue regulatory provisions, their internal regulations that establish their internal rules would be held back Nor can they establish guidelines or technical guidelines.

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