In the midst of an Internet and telecommunications revolution of sorts in Asia, it would be convenient if you happened to be sitting on an under-utilised fibre-optic network. As it happens, Hong Kong's power companies are. However, unlike other utilities in Asia - and in fact the world - the local counters have made little effort to take advantage of the potential. That may be changing. Utilities have a lane on the information superhighway because most of them own some form of fibre-optic network, normally laid to communicate between electricity substations. And they can easily expand their capacity by wrapping the fibre around existing electricity wires. In addition, they generally have access rights for entry to individual premises and buildings and rights-of-way to established transmission and distribution systems. Kepco in Korea, Meralco in the Philippines, and Malaysia's Tenaga Nasional have either established telecommunications businesses or begun installing a fibre network. However, 'in Hong Kong, meaningful diversification has not yet occurred', according to Credit Suisse First Boston. 'Hong Kong is in the early stage of telecoms market liberalisation,' said the investment bank's head of utilities research Jenny Cosgrove. 'There are major build-outs of fibre currently being undertaken. However, there remains potential, particularly for CLP [Holdings], to enter an alliance where it contributes its existing fibre networks and rights-of-way to speed up installation and lower the cost of developing fibre backbones for licensed telecom operators.' CLP has 700 km of fibre-optic wire in its service territory, although its networks end at the nearest sub-station to a building. In September last year, CLP formed the subsidiary CLP Telecom and applied to the Government for an external facilities licence to enable it to carry voice and Internet traffic between the mainland and Hong Kong. The project would make use of existing cable and wrap new cable around cross-border power lines. Negotiations remain under way for the project, which involves a modest investment of HK$100 million. However, a shorter-term problem is that analysts are wary of trying to put a value on the Internet potential. Ms Cosgrove, for instance, has a buy on the company but said it was too early to value its Internet assets. However, she noted that Western power companies that developed Internet and telecommunications businesses had seen their share prices rally recently. Credit Suisse sees more potential in CLP than other Hong Kong utilities when it comes to a new economy expansion. 'A new managing director [for CLP Telecom] will soon be appointed with responsibility for formulating and implementing the company's telecommunications strategy. This could be criticised as being a little late but nonetheless indicates the company sees potential in this area,' according to a recent survey by the investment bank. While Hongkong Electric Holdings has a substantial fibre-optic network on Hong Kong Island, Ms Cosgrove believes the firm would not develop a telecommunications business in competition with group company Hutchison Whampoa. 'This limits the potential for telecoms diversification to co-operation with Hutchison. However, Hutchison has completed a fibre backbone on Hong Kong Island without having made use of [Hongkong Electric's] existing fibre assets or rights-of-way, so there appears little future prospects,' Ms Cosgrove said. The third utility, Hong Kong and China Gas, does not have a fibre-optic network but does have valuable rights-of-way. It is already in a joint venture with controlling shareholder Henderson Investment to invest $800 million in information technology over three years, including an Internet service provider named iCare. Last month, those projects were included in Henderson's Internet arm Henderson Cyber.