An Internet service company has become the first in its field in Hong Kong to be awarded a special quality certificate. LinkAGE Online has received an ISO 9002 certification, which is a rating system for assuring high standards of quality for products and services, offered by the International Management Centre based in London. Chief executive Chin Man said the award was the 'first step' towards raising the standards of the entire industry of Internet service providers in the territory. His comments came after some critics claimed that many of the estimated 94 companies licensed to operate Internet services in the area had failed to offer good services in the past. Since the first ISPs began in 1993, they have often been accused of being unreliable and even the most reliable of them have been regarded as the best of a 'bad lot' by customers. But Mr Man said: 'This new accreditation is the first step towards raising standards across the whole industry of Internet service providers as well as improving their image. 'As far as we know, we are the first company in this field in Hong Kong to be given the award, which we are very pleased to have received. 'It is an internationally recognised certificate and is a way of defining standards for an industry. 'The certificate will also help us grow in the future and give customers confidence in our services.' Mr Man said the Internet had become a serious part of mainstream business, whereas, at one time, it was primarily used for entertainment by individual home users. 'It is necessary over the long term for ISP firms to increase the credibility of their business by having those internationally recognised standards of quality,' Mr Man said. He added that because the company's business had expanded so quickly, from a staff of just four 2.5 years ago, to around 60 today, it needed to set certain operational standards. 'That is why an ISO award is also so important because it helps to regulate the firm and build up a high-quality management system which meets international standards. 'Many of the reasons why there have been such poor standards in the Internet service provider industry in Hong Kong have also been because it is so new. No one yet knows how to handle it,' Mr Man said. LinkAGE Online staff spent about eight months implementing 'quality control' procedures in order to gain the ISO award. Experts monitored workers and analysed ways they could improve their operations. 'The idea to actually get an accreditation came from the people working in the firm. 'They studied the idea for a week and thought it should go ahead, so it was internally generated,' Mr Man said. LinkAGE Online aims to provide total Internet services which help corporate clients harness the powers of the Internet. The firm offers corporate dedicated Internet access, system design, marketing consultancy, security solutions, World-Wide Web design and production among other services.