TVB could be in breach of telecoms laws if it refuses to lease transmission stations to Hong Kong Television Network for its mobile TV broadcasts, the Communications Authority has warned.
TVB announced last month it had terminated an agreement with China Mobile Hong Kong Corporation (CMHKC), which has been acquired by HKTV, to lease six hilltop transmission stations with effect from July, with no new agreement in place.
The move left a question mark over HKTV's ability to transmit its mobile television service.
Six out of seven of the city's hilltop transmission stations were being rented by CMHKC from TVB, and one by ATV.
HKTV, which has had its application for a free-to-air television licence rejected by the government, put forward a plan to launch mobile television services in July. It will allow the public to watch the station's programmes on mobile phones or other devices connected to the internet.
But the Communications Authority told the Post that the transmission stations "may well be" bottleneck facilities that HKTV would need to rely on in order to provide mobile television services.
"If it could be established that such facilities are bottleneck facilities, and if there is evidence that TVB is denying HKTV access to such facilities or is demanding unreasonable terms and conditions before access is granted, with possible adverse competition impact on the telecommunications market, such conduct may engage sections 7K and 7L of the Telecommunications Ordinance," a spokesman said.
Section 7K says that a licensee shall not engage in conduct which prevents or substantially restricts competition in the market, while section 7L stipulates that a licensee in a dominant position in a telecoms market shall not abuse its position.
Because TVB had invited HKTV to discuss a new contract, no competition concerns arose at this stage and no complaints had been received, the watchdog said. Were the authority to receive a complaint relating to competition laws, it would handle it in accordance with the competition guidelines.
Professor Anthony Fung Ying-him, director of Chinese University's school of journalism and communication, said hilltop transmission stations were clearly bottleneck facilities for the operation of mobile television.
There are rules in place to safeguard fair and open competition, but they have not been strictly enforced, he said.
"The Office [of the Communications Authority] should take a more active role to ensure their implementation and execution."
An HKTV spokeswoman said the company would do its best to negotiate with TVB.
"However, if TVB refuses to lease hilltop stations on reasonable terms, HKTV will seek the Communication Authority's intervention accordingly," she said.
A TVB spokeswoman said: "TVB, being a law-abiding organisation, will conduct business in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations. The termination of the agreement and the invitation to Hong Kong Television Network to renegotiate a new lease was carried out under the same principle."