IN an unprecedented move, four of the world's largest telecommunications operators have clubbed together and called on the Government to open the telecom market and break the 'cartel' of local fixed network operators. While praising the Government for its recent agreement with Hongkong Telecom to end its international exclusivity licence eight years ahead of schedule, the four telecom giants have accused SAR authorities of protectionism and are threatening to take the matter up with their respective governments. Locally-based managing directors from AT&T, British Telecom, WorldCom and Global One, under the banner of the 'Group of Competitive Carriers' (GCC), have put their names to a submission, addressed to the Secretary for Economic Services Stephen Ip Shu-kwan, requesting a meeting to air their concerns. It is believed Economic Services Bureau and Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) officials may meet the group this week. A group spokesman said: 'There is a very angry sentiment among the international carriers right now. We're seeing a market which is becoming a cartel. We all feel strongly about it and we will raise this with our governments. 'We're highlighting the fact that FTNS (fixed telecommunications network services) operators have been given a free ride for four years,' the spokesman said. The submission calls for the Government to 'do away with all regulatory restrictions on market access for all sectors of the telecommunications industry in Hong Kong'. 'The granting of additional licences should be at the forefront of the Hong Kong Government's liberalisation initiatives' to create jobs, investment opportunities and ensure consumer interest was best served, the paper said. The group says the Government has stated its 'established policy' of not limiting the number of service-only operators, while on the other hand has not made a final decision on the number and scope of international simple resale (ISR) voice licences, implying limits may be applied. Since the Government ended Hongkong Telecom's monopoly on local calls four years ago, three licences have been awarded to Wharf's New T&T, New World Telephone and Hutchison Telecom. Hongkong Telecom also has a licence. 'We're trying to get into this,' the group spokesman said. 'This is outrageous. The Government is practically saying 'we've protected them for four years and we'll continue to protect them'. 'The Government is reluctant to issue licences to international carriers. 'It's a unique occasion when the four largest international carriers get together and sign the same document. The message is a very profound one,' he said. Ofta director general Tony Wong said the Government had not yet ruled out the option of issuing more licences. A decision would be made in a mid-year review of the local telecommunications sector. 'There is an added dimension now that the international licence has been opened up,' Mr Wong said. 'It will be convenient for all licences to be reviewed together. 'The review will answer whether or not we will issue any more and whether international carriers will get one,' he said. 'I don't think there should be any claims of a cartel at this stage.' Leslie Harris, president of FTNS licence holder New T&T, said the three new entrants had pledged to pump a total of about $20 billion into developing networks. 'They [the GCC] just want to build a small network and siphon off the traffic,' Mr Harris said. 'When four companies get together like this, you can be sure that the best interests of Hong Kong are not uppermost in their minds.'