LCQ18: Provision of broadband services for residents in remote areas

     Following is a question by the Hon Holden Chow and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):
     The local market for fixed telecommunications network (fixed network) services has been fully liberalised since 2003. On the basis of conforming to the licence conditions, operators are free to provide various types of fixed network broadband Internet access services (broadband services), having regard to their own commercial considerations, operational directions and the situation of market competition. In addition, the Government is progressively expanding the coverage of Wi-Fi.HK by doubling the number of hotspots to 34 000 to provide free Wi-Fi services to members of the public at public places with high patronage, including markets and parks, across the territory. With regard to the building of fibre-based fixed networks in remote areas, the Government indicated in April this year that at least three operators were actively building fibre-based fixed networks in those areas. Nevertheless, over the years, there have all along been residents in remote areas relaying to me that broadband services in those areas are provided at speeds lower than those claimed by operators and there are frequent disconnections during unsettled weather, causing great nuisances to the work and daily lives of the residents. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it will review the licensing regime for fixed network services with a view to incorporating, in such type of licences when they are renewed or newly granted, a service obligation clause requiring that the broadband services provided by operators in remote areas shall not be inferior in quality to those in urban areas; if it will not, of the reasons for that;
(2) whether it will consider taking the actual needs of residents as one of the considerations for installing Wi-Fi.HK hotspots by the Government so that remote areas with poor quality broadband services may be considered by the authorities for installation of Wi-Fi hotspots; if it will not, of the reasons for that;
(3) whether it has provided incentives to encourage broadband service operators to build fibre-based fixed networks in remote areas for providing fibre Internet access services for the residents; if it has, of the details, including the effectiveness of such incentives;
(4) whether it will consider building fibre-based fixed networks in remote areas on its own for leasing to operators so that remote areas can be covered by fibre-based fixed networks earlier; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and
(5) given that the Government of the United Kingdom (UK) put forward a bill in July this year with the main objective to provide fast-speed (with a speed of 10 megabits per second) and high quality broadband services so as to give residents, no matter whether they live in urban or remote areas, the same right to request the Government to provide broadband services of a certain speed and the related infrastructure, whether the authorities will make reference to the UK practice and enact relevant legislation to protect the right of residents in remote areas to enjoy high quality broadband services; if they will not, of the reasons for that?
     A consolidated reply of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Innovation and Technology Bureau to the question raised by the Hon Holden Chow is as follows:
     The Hong Kong local fixed telecommunications service market has been fully liberalised since 2003. From the telecommunications policy perspective, the Government adopts a pro-competition and market-driven regulatory and licensing regime. There is no pre-set upper limit for the issuance of licences for local fixed telecommunications services, and the number of fixed telecommunications services is completely determined by the market. Various fixed network operators (FNOs), having regard to market demand, provide different types of telecommunications services for consumers to choose from. The charges are also determined by the market under this competitive environment. The provision of fixed broadband services, the network coverage and the type of technologies adopted are determined by FNOs based on their commercial considerations.
     With a view to encouraging and assisting investment by FNOs in network expansion, the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) has all along provided facilitating measures to assist FNOs in rolling out network at public streets, government-owned bridges and tunnels so as to assist them in expanding their network coverage to rural areas and outlying islands. The OFCA is also committed to explaining to the public the rights and responsibilities of FNOs in rolling out network in private land and premises and the benefits to residents in order to speed up the expansion of FNOs' network coverage at different locations in Hong Kong. If FNOs have difficulties in the short term in laying fibre cable to certain remote areas (such as outlying islands) for the provision of high-speed broadband services, the Communications Authority (CA) would assign the appropriate radio spectrum to FNOs in accordance with their needs for the provision of broadband services at those areas using microwave links. Furthermore, the OFCA would refer enquiries or complaints received from the residents of particular locations to the FNOs concerning unsatisfactory fixed broadband services, and encourage them to explore feasible options so as to enhance the network coverage at those areas.
     We understand that there are currently at least three FNOs actively establishing networks in rural and remote areas, with a view to providing higher speed broadband services. Among these FNOs, two are existing FNOs, while the other one is a new FNO providing wireless fixed broadband services using radio spectrum. We expect that with the continued network expansion or improvement by FNOs in the rural and remote areas, fixed broadband services there will have gradual enhancements.
     Apart from fixed broadband services, a number of mobile network operators (MNOs) are also providing mobile broadband services in the market recently. Consumers at locations within the network coverage of the MNOs can make use of their mobile network to get access to the Internet as an alternative to the conventional fixed broadband services. With the continued technological advancement, the speed of mobile broadband services provided by MNOs in Hong Kong now reaches as high as 450 Mbps, which is comparable with that of fixed broadband services.
     As regards the provision of Wi-Fi service, the Wi-Fi network technology at present requires the use of existing broadband network (including fixed and mobile networks) to provide Internet access service within a short distance (about 30 to 80 metres) through wireless technology. Therefore, when expanding Wi-Fi network, venues to be installed with Wi-Fi hotspots have to be covered by broadband network.
     Currently, the "Wi-Fi Connected City" programme mainly provides free Wi-Fi wireless Internet access service at government venues with high patronage to facilitate the public and visitors. The Government is inviting Wi-Fi service operators to install hotspots at more government and non-government venues to provide free public Wi-Fi service, so as to expand the coverage of free Wi-Fi service (for details, please refer to FC Paper No. FCR(2016-17)21).
     Different regions formulate their own city connection and inclusion policy based on different environment and developments. We will continue to encourage and assist investments by FNOs to expand network and extend services to rural and remote areas under the existing mechanisms.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:00