Telecoms rings in the changes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 January, 1999, 12:00am

POOR old Hongkong Telecom. For years the company has been forced to send tonnes of glossy special offers, garbled details of bonus point plans and ever-more intricate bills.

The impression has been one of a company completely baffled by the tricky issue of how to spend its outrageous profits.

After all, the Government in its infinite wisdom had decreed that Telecom's monopoly must go, but it would only be allowed to go in stages. The incumbent champion would have to fight with one hand tied behind its back - it was prevented from cutting call charges.

No longer. The gloves are off at last, and the fledgling contenders that were given the breathing space to establish their operations and build their client base will now have to prove their mettle.

This can only be good news for customers. A flurry of price cutting is expected - possibly as early as tomorrow.

The challengers are expected to wait and see how Telecom comes out swinging. Let us hope the company is feeling extremely aggressive.

The change marks a watershed for consumers. It is also indicative of deeper changes in the global economy.

Gone are the days when telecoms were considered of such crucial strategic and national importance that the state felt obliged to play a role in their operation.

Gone are the crippling costs of infrastructure; the huge exchanges; extensive networks of fixed lines; hundreds upon hundreds of miles of copper wire.

Not long ago, The Economist famously declared the death of distance. It said there was absolutely no justification for the kind of high fees operators (many of them monopolies) were charging for long-distance calls.

For a city like Hong Kong - geographically isolated, with the open sea to the south and another kind of technological and economic wilderness to the north - modern, open and cheap telecommunications is vital. It is the artery of our service sector, upon which the economic hopes of six million people depend.