LCQ11: Internet access services for residents in remote areas
Following is a question by the Hon Alice Mak and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (October 28):
Recently, I have received complaints that some villages in remote areas, such as Chuen Lung Village, Kau Wah Keng San Tsuen and Yau Kam Tau Village in Tsuen Wan, have no access to fixed network broadband Internet access (fixed broadband) services, or are provided with such services only by a single fixed broadband service provider, and such providers charge exorbitant service fees because they enjoy a monopoly position. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the villages in remote areas across the territory not being covered by fixed broadband networks at present, and set out such information by District Council district;
(2) whether it knows the villages in remote areas across the territory being covered only by the fixed broadband network of a single provider at present, and set out such information by District Council district;
(3) whether it will consider afresh imposing conditions requiring the provision of fixed broadband services in remote areas when granting relevant licences to fixed broadband service providers in future, so as to ensure that local residents have access to such services; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) whether the authorities will extend the Government WiFi, free public wireless Internet access service, to the villages mentioned in (1) which are not covered by fixed broadband networks, or those mentioned in (2) which are covered only by the fixed broadband network of a single provider, for use by local residents; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
With the full liberalisation of the telecommunications market in Hong Kong, the provision of fixed broadband service, the network coverage and the type of technologies adopted are primarily decided by fixed network operators (FNOs) based on their commercial considerations. With a view to encouraging and assisting FNOs to invest in network expansion, the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) has all along been committed to offering facilitation measures, including assisting FNOs in rolling out network across public streets, government-owned bridges and tunnels, and explaining to property management companies and owners' corporations the responsibilities and duties of FNOs and the advantages that would bring to the residents in respect of network rollout in private premises so as to enhance network coverage and access.
My response to the four questions is as follows:
(1) and (2) OFCA has no information on the regions in Hong Kong with no fixed broadband network coverage or with fixed broadband network coverage by one FNO only. According to the information held by OFCA, 87 per cent of the residential households in Hong Kong (about 2.3 million households) enjoy fixed broadband network coverage by two or more FNOs.
(3) As mentioned above, the provision of fixed broadband service, the network coverage and the type of technologies adopted are primarily decided by FNOs based on their commercial considerations. If OFCA receives enquiry or complaint alleging that the provision of fixed broadband service cannot satisfy the demand of residents in remote areas, OFCA will relay it to FNOs and encourage them to explore feasible options with a view to enhancing the network coverage of those areas and meeting market needs.
Recently, an operator has proposed to provide wireless fixed broadband services in remote areas, and the Communications Authority has amended the Carrier Licence of the operator accordingly, allowing it to extend its broadband networks to remote areas pursuant to its plan. Another FNO has also announced that it will extend its fibre networks to remote areas, and it is expected that the next phase of the project will be completed by end of 2016.
(4) From a technical point of view, the current Wi-Fi technology cannot function on its own. The setting up of Wi-Fi networks requires the support of broadband networks to provide Internet access services. In addition, to ensure effective use of public funds when installing Government WiFi (GovWiFi) at new premises, we will take into account the patronage of and demand for Wi-Fi services of the locations, as well as the technical feasibility, including the availability of broadband connections. To make the service facilities more cost-effective when installing Wi-Fi hotspots, priority will be given to locations with high patronage and where users can conveniently use the services. There are therefore certain limitations on extending the coverage of free public Wi-Fi services (including GovWiFi) to remote areas. However, we will continue to review and expand the coverage of GovWiFi according to service demand.
Ends/Wednesday, October 28, 2015