A FLAT FITTED with internet and telephone access might seem convenient - but not if you have to pay for something you did not ask for. This is the complaint of some residents at various Hutchison-owned housing developments now being investigated by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta). Internet and/or telephone services are included in building management fees and are non-refundable. After eight years of deregulation to give Hong Kong one of the most competitive telecoms markets in the world, allowing property developers to divide telecom services into individual fiefdoms must look a retrograde step. Telecoms is a fascinating market, as it gives a window on what Hong Kong might have been like if a competition policy existed. Ofta has an armoury of enforceable rules to promote choice and ensure a level playing field for all. This makes life more difficult when you are used to controlling prime retail sites, housing, ports and even utilities. Life and margins are a lot easier as competitive upstarts can be kept out. It is a few years since a telecoms licence seemed like an easy business to make money. Fixed-line licences demanded bigger investments and longer return horizons. Hutchison kept to its word, unlike some other licence holders and built a comprehensive fibre backbone and local loop that covers 80 per cent of Hong Kong residents. After spending more than $10 billion, it can now offer high-speed internet access and internet protocol-based voice and video communications. It has more than 400,000 fixed-line customers and 100,000 for broadband. The dilemma is getting enough customers in each location to make them profitable - you have to invest in the chicken first to get the egg. Making a big investment, only for customers to decide they do not need internet or perhaps prefer to use their mobile phone is frustrating. It is even more galling if you have also built this tenant's home. As the management fee already covers the refuse collection, lift maintenance and Christmas decorations, charging a few dollars for the latest internet access should not seem amiss. Unfortunately for Hutchison, some ungrateful tenants are crying foul when they look at the small print in the management's list of expenses. They want a refund on the internet or phone access which they never use. The issue is enforced bundling and transparency. It might seem a moot point, but in principle what next might be tacked on to management fees - a compulsory supply of Watsons water or Christmas hampers from ParknShop? Not only has Ofta listened to these complaints, but found two potential breaches in its lengthy telecoms ordinance. They highlight the management contract unreasonably restricts customer choice and also competitors get a raw deal. While Hutchison has not prevented access to other operators, even the best salespeople will struggle to sell something you already get free - or think you do. But it is possible to have some sympathy for Hutchison. It too has to operate under a regulatory regime that can look outdated. It is not only incumbent PCCW that suffers from operators such as New World, who largely ride on its backbone to undercut built-out networks. That issue will be resolved another day as the overriding concern of Ofta and the customers must be fair choice. As these backbones now can also carry pay-television packages, it is not only choice on more commoditised internet and voice call markets that is threatened. It is no coincidence the threat to the launch of Galaxy's pay-television service is not good content, but negotiating access to the buildings. Wouldn't life be easier if it could just bundle subscriptions into management fees?