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Spectrum allocation

Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council today (October 15):


Digital terrestrial television services were launched at the end of 2007. The authorities have indicated their intention to switch off analogue television services at the end of 2015, subject to the outcome of further market and technical studies. The authorities are considering the applications of the two free-to-air television stations for renewal of domestic free television programme service licences (free TV licences), the result of which may affect the future allocation of spectrum. Furthermore, at the end of last year, some free-to-air television stations were fined for contravening the requirement on sharing equally the transmission capacity in the Multiple Frequency Network. Regarding the optimal use and fair allocation of precious spectrum resources, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has considered deferring the date of analogue television services switch-off (ASO); if it has, whether it will adjust the relevant considerations; if it will, of the details; what measures the authorities will take to expeditiously achieve the ASO target;

(2) of the respective transmission capacities of analogue television services spectrum which are in use and left idle; of the transmission capacity of the spectrum to be released following ASO; whether it has estimated the utilisation rate of the released spectrum in the first three years;

(3) how it ensures the efficient use of the spectrum to be released following ASO, and that more competition will be introduced into the free-to-air television market; whether it will consider allocating spectrum rights by auction; if it will, of the details; whether it will consider amending the Broadcasting Ordinance (Cap 562) and the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap 106) to improve the auction mechanism concerned; and

(4) of the current allocation ratios and utilisation situations of spectrum among various television stations, and whether it knows if there is any television station which has not fully utilised the transmission capacity of the spectrum allocated to it; if there is, of the details; whether the authorities have any mechanism in place to recover the transmission capacity of spectrum which is left idle by television stations; if so, of the details?



My reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:

(1) Having regard to the relevant factors, including the actual implementation situation of the digital terrestrial television (DTT) services in Hong Kong at that time and the prevailing market situation (e.g. the coverage and take-up rates of DTT services), the Administration decided in June 2011 to set the target date for switching off analogue television services (i.e. analogue switch-off, or ASO in short) at the end of 2015.

As at September 2013, the overall coverage of the DTT network of the two free-to-air television broadcasters had reached at least 99% of the local population. According to a public survey conducted in June 2014, over 80% of the households are capable to receive DTT services. The Government will continue to closely monitor the implementation of the DTT services and the development and maturity of the market, including the increase in the take-up rate of the DTT services, and enhance the publicity on the benefits of DTT to encourage the viewing public to switch over to DTT. We are studying the need to adjust the timeframe for ASO in view of the latest position, and will make appropriate arrangements accordingly.

(2) Under the planning of analogue television spectrum in Hong Kong, an 8 MHz frequency range is assigned as a broadcasting frequency channel for transmitting an analogue television programme service channel. The local hilly topography requires the use of a number of broadcasting frequency channels to achieve close to full across-the-territory coverage via different transmitting stations. At present, there are altogether four analogue television programme service channels.

Spectrum transmission capacity is determined by the nature of the service (e.g. television broadcasting or telecommunications service) to which the spectrum is assigned and the technological development of the service. For instance, given the technical constraint of analogue television broadcasting, an 8 MHz broadcasting frequency channel can only carry a television programme service channel in analogue mode. However, in digital mode, it can carry more than one television programme service channel. As regards the spectrum allocated to television broadcasting (i.e. the 470-806 MHz band), the Communications Authority (CA) has already assigned all of the frequency range to analogue and digital television and broadcast-type mobile television services, and there is no idle channel for territory-wide coverage.

At present, we do not have a specific plan on the use and allocation of the spectrum to be freed up after ASO. Technological development and diversification in telecommunications and broadcasting services has brought about changes in spectrum requirements of the services. Upon ASO, the CA will allocate the freed up spectrum after taking into account such factors as the prevailing spectrum planning advice of the International Telecommunications Union, coordination arrangements with the Mainland on the use of spectrum freed up after ASO of the Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, and the prevailing market demand for telecommunications and broadcasting services.

(3) and (4) To ensure the efficient allocation and use of radio spectrum, the CA has kept under regular review the utilisation of the assigned spectrum by the television broadcasters. If the spectrum is found to have been left idle without a sufficient and sound explanation, the CA will consider invoking the spectrum management and allocation powers conferred to it under sections 32G and 32H of the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap 106) and take appropriate follow-up actions, including but not limited to withdrawing under-utilised spectrum.

Most of the spectrum for television broadcasting has already been allocated to the two free-to-air television broadcasters, i.e. Asia Television Limited (ATV) and Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB). The former Telecommunications Authority assigned in 2007 one single frequency network (SFN) multiplex each to ATV and TVB for the provision of their own DTT services, and one Multiple Frequency Network (MFN) multiplex to be shared equally between ATV and TVB for the digital simulcast of their four analogue free-to-air television programme service channels. After considering in detail the joint application of ATV and TVB and acting under the objective of ensuring the efficient use of radio spectrum, the CA announced in November 2013 its decision, as a temporary measure up to the expiry of the existing domestic free television programme service licences of ATV and TVB, to vary the capacity sharing arrangement of the MFN multiplex by withdrawing 1.5 Mbps transmission capacity in the MFN from ATV during the period from November 26, 2013 to November 30, 2015, and re-assign conditionally such capacity to TVB during the same period.

Currently, through the assigned broadcasting frequency channels and transmission capacity, ATV provides two analogue television programme service channels and six DTT programme service channels (one in high-definition format and five in standard-definition format), while TVB provides two analogue television programme service channels and five DTT programme service channels (all five in high-definition format). The remaining spectrum for television broadcasting, i.e. the two SFN multiplexes, have been allocated to the Radio Television Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Television Network Limited for the provision of DTT services and broadcast-type mobile television services respectively. The two free-to-air television broadcasters have fully utilised the transmission capacity of the spectrum allocated to them.
Ends/Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:02

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)