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LCQ10: Damage on HK's external telecommunications services by earthquake in Luzon Strait

    Following is a question by the Hon Bernard Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, Mr Joseph WP Wong, in the Legislative Council today (January 24):


     A number of submarine cables were damaged by a severe earthquake which occurred in Luzon Strait on the 26th of last month. External telecommunications services in Hong Kong (including IDD calls, roaming calls and Internet access to overseas web sites) were seriously affected for several days following the earthquake. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:

(a) it has estimated the economic losses caused to Hong Kong by this incident; and
(b) it will request the telecommunications service operators concerned to install more backup external telecommunications routings, so as to reduce the impact on external telecommunications services in the event of natural disasters or accidents?


Madam President,

     On December 26 and 27, 2006, a severe earthquake and several after-quakes occurred in the Luzon Strait. As a result, six out of the seven Pacific Ocean submarine cable systems passing through the earthquake region, which connected between Hong Kong and Taiwan, Korea, Japan, North America, broke down one by one. As the damaged cables account for about 90% of the total external connectivity capacity of Hong Kong, our external telecommunications services, including Internet access to overseas websites, IDD services and roaming services, were seriously affected.  

     Following the implementation of contingency measures by the telecommunications service operators (including using satellites and optical cables passing through the Mainland, South East Asia and Europe to transmit messages), the communication and Internet services between Hong Kong and other places resumed within a short period of time. In general, IDD and roaming services resumed normal within two to three days after the earthquake while about 80% of international connection capacity of the Internet service recovered gradually. At present, repair works of the damaged cables are still in progress. According to the information provided by the submarine cable operators, one of the damaged cable systems is expected to recover by the end of this month whereas the repair works of the other damaged cables are expected to be completed progressively by mid-February, if environment and weather permit.

     Regarding the question raised by the Hon. Bernard CHAN, my rely is as follows:

(a) As mentioned above, Hong Kong's external communications services resumed within a short period of time after the incident. Therefore, the Government has not estimated the potentent economic losses caused to Hong Kong by this incident.

(b) In accordance with the current terms and conditions of the carrier licences, licensees are required to operate, maintain and provide a good, efficient and continuous service in a manner satisfactory to the Telecommunications Authority. To ensure that a certain level of service will be maintained under emergency or unexpected circumstances, or to cater for special requests from certain commercial clients, operators will normally install backup external telecommunications routings. Whether to install more backup routings is a commercial decision to be made by individual operators having regard to the market situation. In the light of this incident, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority is discussing with individual operators to gain a better understanding of their contingency measures as well as their future plans on investments in new cables. The operators will also be urged to take serious steps to map out contingency plans to ensure that sufficient network capacity will be provided and effective diversion will be arranged as and when necessary in order to maintain their services.

Ends/Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Issued at HKT 14:52


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