The telecommunications sector will not be opened to full competition until 2003, it was announced yesterday. The Government said it would open the market for satellite and wireless-based systems, but would not grant any fixed-line licences for another four years. The decision leaves the fixed-line market controlled by Hongkong Telecom, New T&T, New World Telephone and Hutchison Telecom. Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa which owns Hutchison Telecom, had urged the Government to delay liberalisation, saying he hoped it would give operators time to prepare for competition. New T&T is controlled by Wharf Holdings, and New World Telephone by New World Development. Shares in Hutchison, Wharf and New World rose sharply following the announcement. Overseas companies and their representatives had been lobbying the Government to open the market immediately. Among other companies, MCI WorldCom of the United States had expressed interest in investing up to $2 billion over 10 years in the fixed-line market. The US Consulate expressed disappointment at the news. 'We welcome Hong Kong's steps in recent months to liberalise the telecommunications and broadcast markets but are disappointed the Government has decided not to allow additional competition in the local fixed-line market,' it said. 'We believe the best way to bring the benefits of accelerated competition to Hong Kong would be to open up the market to additional qualified telecom companies.' Legislator Fred Li Wah-ming of the Democratic Party accused the Government of bowing to pressure from the companies which already had licences. 'It's like giving out presents to all parties concerned and trying to appease them,' he said. Fellow party member Sin Chung-kai regretted the decision, saying it was harmful to the business environment. 'This contravenes the free-market principle. Consumers have fewer choices and there is a slow-down in the pace of price reduction,' Mr Sin said. Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said less competition meant consumers could not benefit from lower prices. 'From a consumer point of view, the more competition, the higher the benefits,' she said. Legislator Howard Young of the Liberal Party supported the decision, but asked how officials could ensure that full competition would be achieved in 2003. Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting Kwong Ki-chi said immediate liberalisation would not necessarily result in low prices. He rejected claims the Government was restricting competition.