On the Horizon
Time is Right for a Full Review
Time is Right for a Full Review

The Government has released a Consultation Paper (CP) on “Review of Telecommunications Regulatory Framework.” While we welcome a review of these regulations, the Chamber is disappointed at the narrow scope of the proposals in the CP. 

We must grasp this golden opportunity to bring our regulatory framework into the digital age, as it may be a long time before another opportunity arises.

As HKGCC has consistently pointed out, business regulations need to be regularly reviewed, and amended or withdrawn in the light of changing market circumstances. Otherwise unnecessary costs and red tape will be imposed on businesses, which may ultimately be passed on to consumers. This is particularly true in a very fast-moving sector such as telecoms.

Advanced telecoms services are vital to our continued success as an international commerce and financial centre, and to realize the Government’s objective of making Hong Kong a smart city.

 The last major review of the Telecommunications Ordinance was 19 years ago. So it is disappointing to see that the CP proposes only four changes to the existing legislation. The four proposed changes are:

  • Given that 5G technology will enable communication between a wide range of devices, to clarify that the Communications Authority will regulate the telecommunications component of such devices;
  • Imposing a new criminal offence for negligently damaging underground telecommunications cables;
  • Simplifying the issue of non-carrier licences; and
  • Specifying the list of Communications Authority decisions that can be appealed to a new appeal board.

 We believe that there are other provisions in the current regulations that should be withdrawn because any purpose that they had served in the past no longer exists. 

 This leads to another important point. In a comprehensive review of existing legislation, one would expect each legislative requirement to be analysed, and a case made for its retention, amendment or withdrawal. The CP does not do so. 

At a Chamber conference in November, we learned from senior officials from the U.K.’s Regulatory Policy Committee how a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) should be undertaken. This involves four key questions:

  • What is the problem which the legislative provision is seeking to address?
  • What are the objectives it is seeking to achieve?
  • What are the options to achieve the objectives?
  • What are the costs and benefits of each option?

 The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has published its own methodology for reviewing privacy legislation, which is similar to the U.K. approach. If either the U.K. or the Privacy Commissioner’s approach were adopted, they would almost certainly produce more changes to the Telecommunications Ordinance than the four that the CP proposes.

Removal of outdated or duplicated provisions is particularly important, and the Government should take this opportunity to conduct a comprehensive review of the current legislation. 

For example, licence conditions regarding customer information should be removed, as the use of personal data is already subject to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. In another example, the requirements of filing and publication of tariffs should be reconsidered given that unfair trade practices are already addressed the Trade Description Ordinance.

We hope that the Government agrees that the current consultation presents a rare and vital opportunity to bring Hong Kong’s telecoms legislation into the digital age. We should take full advantage of this opportunity.