Telecoms and broadcasting watchdogs to be merged

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 12:00am

The government wants to merge its telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory bodies to create a more responsive and market-driven watchdog.

The change is becoming necessary because of the increasing convergence of technologies such as cable-television broadcasting, the internet and mobile-phones services, said Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang Chun-wah yesterday on the sidelines of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia's annual convention.

The merger between the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) and the Broadcasting Authority would change the licensing and supervision regime but would also be in line with global trends and industry development, Mr Tsang said.

'The new operation will be totally opposite to how our industry now works. We want a single regulatory body that responds to converging technologies and services.'

The current regulators focused on forming rules and guidelines, which could hinder innovation and investment, while the new structure would concentrate more on market research and intervene only when 'market failure' took place, Mr Tsang said.

Ofta, headed by Au Man-ho, oversees phone carriers, while the Broadcasting Authority, led by Daniel Fung Wah-kin, has dominion over cable firms. However, they overlap in supervision, as in the case of Hong Kong Broadband Network and PCCW's NOW Broadband TV. Both offer pay-television services through the internet but are issued with different licences.

The merging of the two regulators under the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau would not result in job losses, Mr Tsang said.

The government will launch a three-month public consultation early next year before preparing to implement its proposal and possible amendments to the legislation.

'There could be changes [to legislation]. We don't know yet,' Mr Tsang said. 'We need to look at the details and the input from the consultations before deciding what to do. But it is possible that the whole licensing regime could change.'

Last year, the European Union adopted a new competition-based regulatory framework for electronic communications services and networks. It separates the regulation of transmission and content while at the same time aiming to encourage deregulation and enhance competition.