Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (May 6):
It is learnt that incidents of works contractors damaging underground optical fibre cables or telecommunications devices when carrying out excavation or underground works have occurred from time to time. Such incidents often affect telecommunications services, causing inconvenience and losses to telecommunications service users. In addition, the Electricity Supply Lines (Protection) Regulation (Cap. 406 sub. leg. H) and the Gas Safety (Gas Supply) Regulations (Cap. 51 sub. leg. B) respectively provide that a person who carries out any works shall take all reasonable measures to prevent the occurrence of an electrical accident or an interruption to the supply of electricity arising from those works and to protect the gas pipe from damage, while telecommunications devices, networks and lines (collectively referred to as “telecommunications infrastructures”) are not protected by similar legislation. On the other hand, some residents in remote areas have relayed to me that the speed of Internet access in these areas is unsatisfactory. They have pointed out that since telecommunications infrastructures are closely related to industrial and commercial activities, the daily lives of members of the public as well as competitiveness of society, the Government should endeavour to assist telecommunications service providers in protecting and enhancing telecommunications infrastructures. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the number of cases in each of the past three years in which underground telecommunications infrastructures were damaged due to the carrying out of works and, among these cases, the number of those in which telecommunications services were affected, with a tabulated breakdown by type of works project (i.e. railway projects, public works projects and other works projects);
(2) of the details of the measures currently taken by the authorities to protect various infrastructures (including water supply, electricity supply and town gas) from damage; the differences between such measures and the measures to protect telecommunications infrastructures; whether the authorities will enact legislation as well as formulate penalty mechanisms and measures to require works contractors to take all reasonable measures to prevent telecommunications infrastructures from damage arising from the carrying out of works; if they will, of the details; and
(3) how the authorities assist telecommunications service providers in enhancing telecommunications infrastructures in remote areas with a view to increasing the connection speed of the Internet; whether they have plans to set the lowest acceptable connection speed of the Internet and formulate specific plans and timetable for making the connection speeds of the Internet in various districts in Hong Kong attaining that level?
(1) According to the statistics of the Highways Department, the numbers of cases of damage to underground telecommunications infrastructure caused by the carrying out of works in the past three years are as follows:
Type of Works Number of Cases of
Projects Damage to Telecommunications
2012 2013 2014
Railway Works 4 9 0
Public Works 12 8 7
Other Works 3 5 4
Total 19 22 11
Note: The above statistics are records of damage cases received by the Highways Department. Relevant organisations (including organisations that employ the contractors for carrying out works and telecommunications operators) involved in cases of damage to underground utilities infrastructure are not required by the law to report all cases.
The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) requires, under the Guidelines for Local Fixed, Mobile, and Services-Based Operators for Reporting Network and Service Outage (Guidelines), telecommunications operators to report network and service outage cases to the OFCA under specified circumstances, including where the 999 emergency routes to the Police centre have been affected for more than 15 minutes and where any fixed network failure has affected the normal operation of the airport for more than 15 minutes, etc. According to the OFCA’s records, in the past three years, there was only one case of damage to telecommunications infrastructure caused by the carrying out of works in 2012 where reporting of such case to the OFCA was required under the above Guidelines.
(2) At present, there is already relevant legislation in place to protect underground infrastructure, including telecommunications cables, from being damaged. In accordance with the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28), the respective works promoter is required to obtain an Excavation Permit from the Highways Department or Lands Department for excavations on unleased government land including streets maintained by the Highways Department. To prevent damage to existing underground services, including telecommunication cables, specific requirements are included under the Conditions of Excavation Permit to mandate the Permittee to take appropriate precautionary measures. For excavation work carried out on streets, such measures include making all reasonable effort to obtain relevant utility record plans from utility undertakings; using suitable non-destructive underground services detectors to locate existing underground services before excavation; using hand-digging method for excavation close to or around existing underground services; and taking all reasonable precautions to protect the existing underground services in the vicinity from the effects of vibration, undermining, or other earth movements caused by the Permittee’s work. Under the Ordinance, violation of a permit condition is an offence and shall be liable to a fine.
Apart from being protected by the Conditions of Excavation Permit under the abovementioned legislation, telecommunications infrastructure, waterworks, electricity supply lines and town gas pipes are also protected by other legislation.
In respect of telecommunications infrastructure, pursuant to section 18 of the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106), any person who proposes to carry out work on any land shall take all reasonable precautions to prevent damage to any telecommunications line or radiocommunications installation in or near the land. The affected telecommunications licensee may under the abovementioned section recover from the person any expenses incurred in making good any damage to a telecommunications line or radiocommunications installation caused by a failure to take such precautions.
For waterworks, pursuant to the Waterworks Ordinance (Cap. 102), any person who, without permission in writing of the Water Authority, damages or destroys any part of the waterworks shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine. The Water Authority may also recover the cost of repair and other works, and damage or loss from such person. In addition, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) requires contractors to comply with the requirements in the “Conditions of Working in vicinity of Waterworks Installations” and to take all necessary steps to avoid any damage to water mains and installations by excavation works. The WSD has deployed a number of dedicated inspection teams as a proactive measure to carry out surveillance of road works which may affect water mains and to give advice and/or warning to the concerned contractors for proper protection of the water mains against damage. Moreover, a polyethylene identification tape on top of the water mains is used to serve as a prior warning to trench diggers of water mains underground.
For electricity supply lines, the Electricity Supply Lines (Protection) Regulation (Cap. 406H) stipulates that works should not be carried out in the vicinity of electricity supply lines (including underground electricity cables and overhead electricity lines), unless all reasonable steps have been taken to ascertain the existence of any such electricity supply lines and their alignments before the works begin. The Regulation also requires that when conducting works in the vicinity of electricity supply lines, all reasonable measures must be taken to prevent interruption of electricity supply caused by the works. Violation of the relevant regulations is an offence and shall be liable to imprisonment and to a fine.
In respect of gas pipes, any person who carries out works in the vicinity of a gas pipe shall comply with the requirements of Regulation 23A of the Gas Safety (Gas Supply) Regulations (Cap. 51B). The person shall take all reasonable steps to ascertain the location and position of the gas pipe before commencing the works and protect the gas pipe from damage arising out of the works that would be likely to prejudice safety during the course of works. Violation of the relevant regulations is an offence and shall be liable to a fine and imprisonment. The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) has also issued a “Code of Practice – Avoiding Danger from Gas Pipes” to provide practical guidance of preventive measures required for any works in the vicinity of gas pipes, including: (1) collection of plans, (2) underground utility survey, (3) digging of trial holes, and (4) safe digging practices, in order to avoid damage to gas pipes from construction works. The Code of Practice and associated booklets are available on the EMSD’s website. Moreover, the EMSD promotes the gas pipe safety by conducting safety talks and carrying out site inspections for the construction and building management industries regularly, especially for the construction site management and the front-line staff the ways in taking reasonable steps to avoid damage to gas pipes from construction works.
Since relevant legislation is already in place to protect telecommunications infrastructure, the Government has no plan to formulate another set of legislation to require works contractors to take all reasonable steps to prevent damage to telecommunications infrastructure caused by the carrying out of works.
(3) With the full liberalisation of the telecommunications market in Hong Kong, the provision of Internet access service, the network coverage and the adoption of access technologies and speed are primarily based on the commercial considerations of operators. The Communications Authority considers it inappropriate to set a standard for Internet connection speed.
In fact, Hong Kong has been ranked among the top in the world in Internet access capabilities. Our broadband networks cover nearly all commercial and residential buildings in the territory; our average peak Internet connection speed at 84.6 Mbps is the fastest in the world, and our average Internet connection speed at 16.3 Mbps is the second fastest in the world; and our telecommunications charges are among the lowest in the world. All these demonstrate the success of our pro-market approach.
With a view to encouraging and assisting operators in network expansion and thus enhancing Internet coverage in remote areas, the OFCA has all along been offering facilitation measures, including assisting operators 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 operators and the advantages that would bring to the residents in respect of network rollout in private premises so as to improve network coverage and connection speed.