'The service keeps cutting out': Angry residents of Hong Kong's outlying islands bemoan PCCW's 'dismal' broadband speeds

Islanders say they are being left behind the rest of the city, which has some of the fastest broadband connections in the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 12:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 9:17pm

Residents of Hong Kong's outlying islands have complained about their "dismal" broadband internet service, with 82 per cent of 186 survey respondents saying they were "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the fixed-line service provided by PCCW subsidiary HKT.

Broadband speeds in southern Lantau Island, Lamma Island, Peng Chau and Cheung Chau average around 4.59 megabits per second, according to a survey conducted by a group called Islands Broadband Concern, set up to push for a better fixed-line broadband service.

That speed is less than one-twentieth of the Hong Kong average, which has been cited as the second fastest in the world.

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"There's a lot of anger and frustration about this. Dozens of complaints are raised every few days. The service keeps cutting out," said Lantau resident Robert Clark, who set up the group which has since sent a letter to PCCW detailing the survey findings in the hope of opening a dialogue with the provider, which enjoys a de facto monopoly on outlying islands.

"The network has been allowed to run down. They need to renew and bring it up to service, but we're at the bottom of the list of PCCW's priorities," he said.

To boost speeds, PCCW would have to pay to install a more extensive fibre-optic network on the islands.

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"HKT has had to prioritise the roll-out of this fibre-optic network to meet customer demand where it is commercially viable to do so and where we can obtain the necessary approvals," a spokesman for PCCW said.

"Since many of these factors are not in our control, sometimes we may be delayed in serving areas that we would like to serve.

"We are also studying the technologies we may be able to use to serve the needs of the outlying island residents for higher broadband speeds - and also the costs involved, since these are significant. Shortly, we will be seeking input from our customers on the outlying islands to discuss these issues," he said.

"There are days where you think, is it connected at all?" said consultant Merrin Pease, who has lived in Mui Wo for five years and who says broadband speeds average around three megabits per second, even though he pays HK$268 per month.

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"And if it starts raining or if there are any kinds of weather problems, it can cut out completely."

Mui Wo's primary school, library, government centre and hotel all have poor connectivity, a problem Clark believes puts its residents at a severe disadvantage to the rest of Hong Kong where faster broadband speeds mean more business opportunities and investment.

Unlike in many countries including the United States, the government does not set a minimum for broadband speeds, deeming it "inappropriate".

"Network coverage and the adoption of access technologies and speed are primarily based on the commercial considerations," commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung told lawmakers in May. "The Communications Authority considers it inappropriate to set a standard."