Communications Authority to embark on review of number of public payphones under universal service obligation imposed in accordance with Telecommunications Ordinance
The Communications Authority (CA) today (June 29) announced its decision to embark on a review of the number and distribution of public payphones under the universal service obligation (USO) imposed in accordance with the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106), with a view to reducing to a reasonable level the number of public payphones eligible for universal service contribution (USC), thereby reducing the level of USC borne by the industry and accordingly the pressure for operators to pass on to subscribers of fixed and mobile services in Hong Kong the USC through adjustments to service charges.
By way of background, there were around 3 400 public phones covered by the USO as of December 31, 2016, of which 44 per cent were in-building type (IB) public payphones located in public facilities and government offices, 46 per cent were kiosk type (Kiosk) public payphones located on public streets, and the remaining 10 per cent were emergency helplines mainly located in country parks. Public phones under the USO are funded by fixed and mobile service providers under the USC scheme set up pursuant to section 35B of the Telecommunications Ordinance. The telecommunications industry contributed $21.6 million for the cost of providing public payphones in 2014.
With mobile phone penetration as high as 238 per cent in Hong Kong as of March 2017, the general public relies almost entirely on mobile phones for making calls or sending instant messages, and the demand for public payphones has waned over recent years with almost all of them unprofitable under the USO. According to the data of 2014 and 2015 provided by the universal service provider, about 56 per cent of the public payphones had an average revenue of not more than $1 per day. Against this background, the CA considers that a review of the number of public payphones under the USO is warranted.
A spokesman for the CA said, "Public payphones with an extremely low usage rate, viz with an average revenue of not more than $1 a day, will be the subject of the review. For the avoidance of doubt, the review will not cover emergency helplines, which will be kept intact for use by the general public in remote areas for emergency purposes. The principles adopted by the CA for conducting the review are in line with the practices adopted by overseas jurisdictions like Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom in reducing the number of public payphones under their USO regimes.
"From time to time, the CA receives requests from the public on the removal of certain public payphones due to a variety of reasons, such as causing sightline obstruction to pedestrians and drivers, or taking up space in already narrow pedestrian pathways. By keeping only those public payphones that are still in need by the public, it will help free up space on the streets and alleviate potential obstruction problems."
The spokesman added, "The CA would consult the relevant stakeholders closely in conducting the review. The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) will approach relevant stakeholders in groups to solicit their views on the exclusion of public payphones with an average revenue of not more than $1 per day from the USO. Relevant stakeholders include site owners for IB public payphones like hospitals, recreational and leisure centres, universities and government departments, as well as the 18 District Councils for Kiosk public payphones."
The spokesman emphasised, "The review is intended to reduce the number of public payphones under the USO to a reasonable level in accordance with the needs of the general public. OFCA proposes that at least one existing IB public payphone will be retained in each IB location, and that one Kiosk public payphone located in a remote area without mobile network coverage and an alternative public payphone in the vicinity will also be kept intact under the USO to meet the societal needs. OFCA will engage the relevant stakeholders throughout the process such that any needs and considerations specific to the locations or districts are well catered for before any exclusion decision of the specific public payphones under the USO is made."
It is expected that the entire review will be completed by the end of 2019.
Ends/Thursday, June 29, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:00
Issued at HKT 16:00