RAI, Mediaset frequencies could be sold

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ROME -- The controversial television reform that will force Italian state broadcaster RAI and private broadcaster Mediaset to each switch one of their networks to a digital signal must result in freed-up traditional terrestrial frequencies, Minister of Communications Paolo Gentiloni said Tuesday.

Plans for the mandated 2009 switchover were announced last year, but it was unclear how the newly free terrestrial frequencies will be utilized. There also has been speculation that Mediaset might try to hold onto its abandoned frequencies as a way of keeping them off the market. But Gentiloni's statement indicated that the unused frequencies will remain free and that they could be auctioned off by the government.

"The shift to digital technologies should include as an objective a redistribution of the frequencies currently in use," Gentiloni said while speaking at Roma Tre University.

The mandated 2009 switchover has been criticized by Mediaset, which says the change is part of a larger reform that will slice as much as $1 billion off its bottom line. But the government has refused to budge on the plan.

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