Exco calls off approval meeting in Ofta connection saga

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:00am

The telecommunications regulator suffered another setback yesterday after the Executive Council at the last minute called off a meeting to approve changes to the agency's fixed-line interconnection policy.

The decision is a small victory for fixed-line carrier PCCW. The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) wants to take a go-slow approach to the lifting of its interconnection policy, known as Type II, while PCCW favours a more aggressive roll-back.

Yesterday's meeting was believed to have been cancelled after behind-the-scenes lobbying by PCCW officials, according to sources. In addition, Exco was reluctant to act pending a High Court decision on a lawsuit between PCCW and Ofta.

In that dispute, the court is expected to rule today on whether Ofta has the power to direct PCCW in leasing its broadband network to rivals.

Should the authority lose, the debate turns to whether Type II should be in place at all, rather than how quickly it should be rescinded.

'If Ofta loses the case, and therefore its ability to direct Type II is limited, then that will significantly degrade its ability to implement the policy,' a source said. 'If you don't have the ability to implement, then what's the point in articulating [a policy change]?'

The High Court judgment is just one in a series of cases PCCW has brought to challenge Ofta's authority. So far, the fixed-line carrier has won five decisions, and five cases remain in progress.

Ofta originally hoped to win Exco's backing for its new policy yesterday and had planned to brief industry players on the changes.

'The item was scheduled to be looked at by Exco [yesterday] morning, but it wasn't,' an operator said.

Operators said they were invited by Ofta to a 2.30pm briefing yesterday but were told at about noon that the meeting was cancelled.

However, Ofta denied a meeting had been scheduled.

The regulator originally proposed rolling back mandatory interconnections for broadband and fixed-line services within six years. Under this plan, within three years, PCCW would not have to lease network capacity so rivals can connect new customers, extending to existing customers within six years.

But PCCW, Hutchison Global Communications and City Telecom said the schedule was too long. Ofta is understood to have changed the plan to three years: no new customers after two years, applicable to all customers within three.