Net users could be hit with higher fees following quake

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2007, 12:00am


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As internet services return to normal after being disrupted by the Boxing Day earthquake off Taiwan, Hong Kong users face a possible new blow - higher charges.

Providers may raise their fees to cover new contingency plans to guard against a similar disruption.

'I do not rule out the possibility that fees for internet services might go up in the future as operators try to come up with better contingency plans,' said David Choi Chan-hung, the head of the Hong Kong Internet Exchange.

Providers were left scrambling to reroute their services after the powerful quake ruptured six undersea cables in the Luzon Strait on December 26, disrupting international business links and affecting many residential users.

Congested internet traffic had to be diverted to cables going through Japan or South Korea, instead of Taiwan, to the United States.

'Service providers might have to invest more in their cable systems and make their networks more extensive so that if one side of communication totally breaks down, transmission can be diverted to another route quickly,' Mr Choi said.

'The increase in operation costs might be shifted to consumers, who would be asked to pay higher monthly fees, as the operators are spending more on contingency measures,' he said.

Established in 1995, the exchange is the city's major internet traffic intersection, allowing local internet service providers to swap traffic within Hong Kong without routing it through the US.

But another expert, Chiang Kin-seng, the chair professor of the City University electronic engineering department, doubted whether higher fees would be needed.

'Everyone using the Net in Hong Kong will agree that there is not much difference between the speed of the internet now and before [the earthquake],' he said.

The professor said Hong Kong people were like 'spoiled children', who enjoyed probably the best internet services in the world, and should realise the disruption was rare.

'That kind of accident won't happen often. What is the possibility of having six cables damaged in an earthquake?'

An industry source said if a company wanted to build up its own cable system, it first had to rent a ship costing US$200,000 a day, and then buy a robot, which would cost US$4 million, to do the underwater work.