Arena holds government accountable for spectrum issue

HKT managing director holds government accountable over controverial 3G issue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 3:37am

Among the telecommunications industry's staunchest critics of the government's plan to re- assign 3G mobile spectrum currently in use, HKT Group managing director Alex Arena arguably stands out because of his previous work in government.

Arena was a public policy specialist recruited from Australia by the Hong Kong government in 1993 to serve as the director-general of the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, where he became the architect of the city's telecommunications deregulation.

That agency was the predecessor of the Office of the Communications Authority, which is leading the government's plan to take away and auction off chunks of 3G mobile spectrum from mobile network operators SmarTone Telecommunications, CSL, Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong and HKT, a subsidiary of PCCW.

Arena left his government post in 1997 and worked with PCCW as its special policy adviser to the government. He rose to become the group managing director in April 2007 at PCCW, which is controlled by Richard Li Tzar-kai, after joining the company in 1998.

He changed jobs when PCCW's telecommunications assets were spun off as the business trust HKT Trust and operating arm HKT in November 2011.

In his first public comments about the government 3G spectrum re-assignment scheme last month, Arena said: "This is totally unprecedented. It has never happened before and it shouldn't happen."

Last Friday in an interview, Arena bluntly pointed out that the government would do well to adopt a spectrum-trading platform like other mature markets instead of creating a "silly idea" about taking existing spectrum away from operators.

"We shouldn't be having a debate on silly ideas," he said.

Legislation for setting up spectrum trading will not be opposed by the industry based on various consultations since the 1990s.

"It's just the more sensible thing to do. Why they [the government] are not doing it, I'm absolutely befuddled," Arena said.

He pointed out that the existing telecommunications market is not broken, but the government apparently wants to fix something.

"If the government policy is to create another 10,000 regulatory jobs in Hong Kong, they should come out and say it," Arena said.