The prospect of Television Broadcasts (TVB), Hong Kong's dominant broadcaster, being granted a pay-TV licence has drawn criticism from industry rivals who fear it would create unfair competition in the pay-TV market. Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chief executive of Wharf (Holdings)-controlled i-Cable Communications, yesterday warned of an 'unfair playing field' in the pay-TV market should TVB be awarded a licence. 'Why would the Government want to give special privilege to TVB when no other player holds more than one licence?' said Mr Ng, after the i-Cable annual meeting. 'Granting TVB another licence gives rise to a monopoly, which is against the broadcasting policy.' Mr Ng said i-Cable, the only pay-TV operator at present, welcomed the idea of the Government granting a large number of licences to suitable applicants. He said i-Cable had plans to step into the free-to-air TV market. Galaxy Satellite, 70 per cent-owned by TVB, was among 10 companies to apply for pay-TV licences. Four to five licences are expected to be issued soon. As TVB, which already has a domestic free television licence, was disqualified under the proposed Broadcasting Bill, the company is applying to the Chief Executive-in-Council for an exemption to operate pay-TV. TVB has the most viewers and star talent in the industry - a dominant position which fellow applicants are keen to see kept out of the pay-TV market, at least in the short term. 'We have big concerns about whether it [the pay-TV market] would be seen as a fair competitive environment,' said John Shum, chief operating officer of Hong Kong Network TV, a subsidiary of Sino-i.com which has applied for a pay-TV licence. Industry sources indicated that at least two applicants, one of which is understood to be Cable & Wireless HKT, had threatened to give up their licences should the Government decide to grant TVB entry to the market. HKT declined to elaborate on its position. Other sources said proposals had been made to Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, the new secretary of the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau, to delay the granting of a licence to TVB until the second round of licensing. 'I think it would be much fairer to let TVB in when there was, say, 50 per cent pay-TV market penetration,' said one source. TVB, however, defended itself against claims that it would be monopolising the TV market. 'Why would a proven, successful and efficient company like TVB be boycotted in competition?' asked Bernard Cheung Leung, deputy general manager of TVB International. 'Fair competition is the first rule observed by a free economy such as Hong Kong.' Mr Cheung said its application to provide pay-TV services should not be delayed because of the criticisms of its competitors.