The territory's Telecom Users Group is deadlocked over proposals to reform the charging structure for local calls issued recently by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta). Group chairman Peter Mahoney said he had changed his mind about charging for time spent on local calls after initially agreeing with the idea. 'At face value I thought yes, there is a lot of sense there, but after thinking it through, particularly the impact to business, I really have difficulty with time-charging of calls in a Hong Kong environment,' he said. 'We have a culture of not worrying how long you get on the phone and talk for. That has encouraged use, it has encouraged a lack of fear of the technology. To introduce charges when most other countries around the world are thinking of having no time-charge seems out of step.' In Ofta's consultative document, the director-general of telecommunications, Alex Arena, said changing technology meant there were dangers in allowing local calls to be free indefinitely. The free-call system was open to abuse by people whose computers were plugged into the system 24 hours a day and other heavy users, Mr Arena said. 'If we continue to allow uncontrolled use by machines free-of-charge of the public telephone network, there is a danger that telephone charges could be pushed up significantly or service quality would deteriorate quickly.' Four options were discussed in the report: doing nothing, charging for time spent on a line, expanding the flat-rate charge to cover all services and offering customers a choice between a flat-rate or measured tariff. Mr Arena said: 'It can be concluded that the existing flat-rate tariff structure is unfavourable to a great majority of residential telephone users and that a small number of heavy users are being subsidised by other users. 'There could also be some abuse of the flat-rate system, eg, machine-to-machine long-term connections via the public switched telephone network.' Mr Mahoney said: 'I read the paper. It is very logical and you can't help agreeing with what they say, but I try to draw analogies. 'Everybody pays a road tax yet no one says the people who use the road 10 times more should pay more. 'The point is, there has got to be some way of not discouraging businesses in using telecommunications. 'The thing that has caused all the problems is the Internet services. 'I am very supportive of people being able to use the Internet as and when they need it for as long as they need it. 'Once again, culturally we should be encouraging Internet use because people have never worried about time charges on the phone. 'The other thing that concerns me is that with all the good things that are happening in the industry related to equipment, bandwidth and everything else, you have never really seen the benefits of that pushed back to the people at the end.'