The telecommunications watchdog and Ricky Wong Wai-kay of the Hong Kong Television Network sat down together yesterday for the first time since a mobile television row broke out - and ended up farther apart.
As the discussions reached a dead end, Wong sent an ultimatum to the Communications Authority (Ofca) threatening legal action in two weeks if no solution could be agreed on.
The three-hour session marked the first proper face-to-face negotiations between Wong and Ofca chairman Ambrose Ho Pui-him and director general of communications Eliza Lee Man-ching since January. Wong wanted to launch a mobile service after being denied a free-to-air television licence.
But in the end the meeting threw up more questions than solutions.
The HKTV chairman was told he would breach mobile television licensing rules if just one person watched the service at home using a public antenna.
Wong would need to obtain a broadcasting licence on top of a mobile licence, Ofca said.
Previously, the authority had objected to his proposal to use the digital terrestrial multimedia broadcast (DTMB) transmission standard - which is adopted by established stations TVB and ATV - as this would make HKTV a de facto free-television station.
It warned that if more than 5,000 households could view Wong's service via antenna, he would be bound by the Broadcasting Ordinance to obtain a free-to-air television licence.
But in the latest twist, the authority said the requirement would stand whether it was one person or 5,000.
A mobile television licensee can air shows for people on the go, but not offer "fixed services".
Ho said a fixed service meant any television service that could be picked up by a household antenna. "By providing a fixed service, HKTV would breach the licensing conditions of mobile television," he said.
Ofca advised HKTV to adopt a standard other than DTMB, such as those used for mobile television in Japan and Europe.
Wong called the requirement unreasonable, as it was impossible for a station to prevent viewers from plugging in receivers to public antennas.
"I've been working in the telecoms engineering field for more than 25 years. It is mission impossible," he said.
HKTV's application for a free-to-air television licence was rejected without a convincing explanation in October after a three-year wait. Wong pressed ahead with plans for a mobile service in December after acquiring China Mobile Hong Kong for HK$142 million along with its mobile television licence. His plan to launch in July came to a halt after Ofca disapproved of a change in transmission standard.