LC Paper No. CB(1)773/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ITB

Legislative Council
Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting

Minutes of special meeting
held on Thursday, 10 December 1998, at 2:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon SIN Chung-kai (Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members absent :

Hon MA Fung-kwok (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Kenneth TING Woo-shou, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Public officers attending :

Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting

Mrs Rita LAU
Deputy Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting

Assistant Director of Telecommunications

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

I Briefing by the Administration on the results of the 1998 Review of Television Policy

(LegCo Brief (File Ref.:T/C 126/98 in ITBB/B 203/2(98) VII) tabled at the meeting and circulated to all Members by general despatch on the same day as well as a set of powerpoint presentation material tabled at the meeting and circulated to Panel members thereafter vide LC Paper No. CB(1)624/98-99)

The Chairman explained that this special meeting had been called at very short notice upon the request of the Administration for the purpose of briefing the Panel on the policy decisions arising from the 1998 Review of Television Policy.

2 With the aid of powerpoint presentation, the Deputy Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting (DS/ITB) briefed members on salient points of the review.

The decision to require the Hong Kong Cable Television Limited (HKCTV, formerly known as Wharf Cable Limited) to return the Microwave Multipoint Distribution System (MMDS) frequencies

3 Addressing members' concern about HKCTV's readiness to return the MMDS frequencies currently used by it, namely, frequencies in the 2 GHz band and the 12 GHz band, the Administration advised that HKCTV had just been informed of the decision and the Administration had yet to work out with HKCTV in the context of the mid-term review of its licence details of its commitments to further roll out its hybrid fibre coaxial cable network to replace the MMDS network. Notwithstanding, the Administration considered the decision justified for the following reasons -

  1. The requirement to return the MMDS frequencies had been stipulated in HKCTV's licence and the deadline for their return had already been extended twice to late May 2001. As such, HKCTV should have sufficient time to convert to full optical distribution. The MMDS frequencies had only been assigned to HKCTV on a temporary basis to facilitate early launch of its service pending completion of the rolling out of its cable network.

  2. The MMDS frequencies currently used by HKCTV had other designated uses. For example, frequencies in the 2 GHz band had been assigned by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for use by third-generation mobile telephones in Hong Kong and frequencies in the 12 GHz band would be used for satellite broadcasting.

  3. There were complaints from HKCTV's subscribers covered by microwave frequencies that they could have access to only 20 channels, whereas subscribers wired to HKCTV's cable network had a much wider choice of over 40 channels. As HKCTV charged all its subscribers the same level of subscription fees, it was only fair to require it to switch to full optical distribution as soon as practicable.

4 On whether the recovery of MMDS frequencies might affect HKCTV's operation, the Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting (S/ITB) pointed out that HKCTV had been able to meet its roll-out commitment under its licence and it should be able to further roll out its cable network to keep up its present coverage and operation with continued investment. At the Chairman's request, the Administration agreed to provide further information on the present and planned allocation of MMDS frequencies for consideration at the Panel meeting to be held on 14 December 1998.

Interconnection issues

5 In reply to enquiries about the present problems associated with interconnection, the Assistant Director of Telecommunications explained that there was only one drop coaxial cable leading into each residential flat and that was a bottleneck. Interconnection of various systems of cable TV, satellite master antenna and cable telephone at the rooftop or other appropriate points was necessary to facilitate transmission of signals through the bottleneck for introduction of new services.

6 Elaborating on how the interconnection of HKCTV's cable network with telecommunications network could be effected, S/ITB said that the most viable way of interconnection had yet to be worked out as the two networks were different in nature and interconnection could not be effected at just any one point. Members were however assured that the Telecommunications Authority (TA) would develop a set of principles and technical arrangements in consultation with the industry and publish guidelines for reference by the industry.

7 On enquiries about the level of charges for interconnection with HKCTV's network, the Administration advised that the level of such charges, which would be negotiated and agreed commercially between HKCTV and the other operator concerned, should sufficiently meet the investment and operational costs of HKCTV in the construction and maintenance of the network. In the event that a commercial agreement could not be reached, TA might intervene and determine the level of charges, but if any interested party was aggrieved by TA's decision, it might apply for judicial review.

Domestic free TV

8 Commenting on Mr Fred LI's view that the domestic free TV market should be opened up, S/ITB advised that as there was insufficient frequency spectrum in the UHF spectrum, it was not feasible to issue further terrestrial TV licences. However, other technically feasible means such as general and direct-to-home satellites, or other telecommunication networks, etc. could be considered for operating domestic free TV service. He clarified that under the new technology-neutral licensing regime, there would be no limit on the number of domestic free TV licences to be issued.

9 As to whether HKCTV could apply for a domestic free TV licence, S/ITB confirmed that to avoid conflicts of interest and the build-up of media monopoly, cross-media ownership restrictions would continue to apply to domestic free and domestic pay television programme services licensees, including HKCTV.

Television programmes

10 Miss CHOY So-yuk opined that TV broadcasters should be required to reserve a certain portion of their air-time for independent local productions to help promote the development of the local TV production industry and hence, raise programme standards. In response, S/ITB pointed out that the requirement would be difficult to enforce and was not necessarily a guarantee of good programme quality. He further pointed out that as judgement on programme quality was subjective, enhancement of programme quality might better be left to programme providers' initiatives in response to viewers' demand in a competitive market environment. Mr Howard YOUNG expressed concern about the implications of such a consumer-led approach on programme quality and viewers' choice, pointing out that programmes of higher educational, cultural and artistic value might as a result have to give way to programmes of mass appeal catering for popular tastes only. In re-assurance, S/ITB advised that the Broadcasting Authority (BA) had already provided guidelines on programming standards in its Code of Practice for broadcasters' general observance.

11 On whether there was a need to maintain two English channels having regard to their low viewership, S/ITB highlighted the importance of English as an international language and one of Hong Kong's official languages. He further pointed out that abolition of the English channels presently operated by Asia Television Ltd. (ATV) and Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) would amount to a unilateral variation in the conditions of their licences and would not be legally in order. DS/ITB supplemented that according to BA's existing programming policy, ATV and TVB were already given sufficient flexibility in terms of programming. Their English channels were allowed to broadcast programmes in languages/dialects other than English up to 20% of their daily broadcasts outside prime time, (i.e., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.). In addition, applications for non-English broadcasts during prime time would also be considered under exceptional circumstances.

Competition safeguards

12 On measures to ensure fair competition, S/ITB and DS/ITB pointed out that apart from proposing to raise the maximum fine to $1 million for breaches of the pro-competition provisions to be introduced into the relevant legislation, the Administration was also formulating, in consultation with the industry, a set of guidelines on what constituted an anti-competitive practice to facilitate the future investigative work and determination of BA on anti-competitive practices.

Other concerns

13 In reply to the Chairman, S/ITB reported that as the review of fixed telecommunications involved controversial and complicated issues, more time would be required to finalise the policy decisions. Members nevertheless noted that the Administration aimed to reach its decisions by early 1999.

14 The meeting ended at 4:00 p.m.

Legislative Council Secretariat
18 January 1999