HONGKONG Telecom is no longer allowed to force hundreds of thousands of customers to pay a premium for using a fax machine. The director of the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, Alex Arena, said legislative changes ensured customers could ''stick a fax machine on a line just like an answering machine''. The company previously made a surcharge for connecting a fax machine of $40 a month for a business and $30 a month for a residence, whether on a dedicated fax line or one shared with a phone. The surcharge produced more than $150 million from 177,000 customers over the past three years. However, the South China Morning Post highlighted last month that the company's grounds for demanding these payments were unclear. Mr Arena's department made a minor and previously unnoticed change in Hongkong Telecom's legislation via the government Gazette 12 days ago which ended any grounds for such surcharges. Mr Arena said Hongkong Telecom can still offer services such as Homefax and Faxline, which offer some extra facilities such as an entry in the fax directory, but he stated these were ''purely optional''. The company last night offered no comment on the change but reiterated that customers who did not pay any premium would not be given extra services.