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Mexico's lower house generally approves telecoms bill

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's lower house of Congress gave general approval on Tuesday to legislation that aims to rein in telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim and broadcaster Televisa to encourage more competition in the phone and TV markets. The approval was a victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has faced political opposition and a sluggish economy this year after he pushed a series of reforms through Congress in 2013 that were designed to spur faster growth in Mexico.

Slim was reacting to the bill even as it passed. Just as lawmakers voted to pass the bill's general framework, his telecoms conglomerate America Movil said it would be willing to sell assets to reduce its market share below 50 percent if it could escape tougher regulations.

Opposition lawmakers made dozens of reservations on parts of the legislation that will be debated on the floor of the lower house. Final approval is likely to stretch into the night as lawmakers work through the reserved articles of the law.

The law is expected to pass without any major changes.

Mexico's Senate approved the legislation on Saturday. The bill will be sent to Pena Nieto for publication once it receives final approval.

The bill fleshes out a constitutional reform that Pena Nieto pushed through Congress last year in a bid to increase competition in phone and television markets.

For years, critics have complained that America Movil and Televisa exert too much power over the daily lives of Mexicans.

America Movil controls about 70 percent of Mexico's mobile market and 80 percent of the fixed-line business.

Televisa, the world's biggest provider of Spanish-language content, has over 60 percent of the free-to-air TV market and it is the biggest player in pay TV with its cable and satellite operations.

America Movil said it would sell some assets in order to reduce its market share below 50 percent, the threshold that subjected Slim's companies to harsher regulations. Slim's companies have been ordered to share infrastructure and slash the costs they charge other companies to complete calls on their network.

America Movil said it would only go through with the asset sales if that reduced its regulatory burden and allowed it to offer all telecommunications services.

Slim has been seeking a way into the pay TV market for years, but he has been barred from entering.

The approval of the so-called "secondary laws" has been delayed by more than six months, complicating the work of a new regulator, the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT), which has already imposed tougher regulation on the two companies that dominate Mexico's phone and TV markets.

The approval of the telecoms law opens the door for Congress to pass separate secondary legislation on the government's most ambitious reform, the opening of Mexico's oil and gas industry to private investment after a 75-year state monopoly.

(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Richard Chang and Jan Paschal)

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