Fri, Feb 23, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Hong Kong mulls measures to mute cellphone owners


It's a Hong Kong phenomenon many people could do without: Cellphone maniacs so attached to their communications gadgets that they can't shut up -- not in a movie, in the library or even in church.

Amid much frustration at the endless ringing and chattering, the Office of Telecommunications said yesterday it may restore silence to some public places by installing mobile-phone jamming systems.

Details aren't yet in place, but many ordinary Hong Kong citizens welcome the idea.

Christine Lam, who works in a trading firm, was caught up in the suspense of the mountain-climbing drama Vertical Limit when the audience was rudely interrupted. "A man behind started talking very loudly on his cellphone, arranging to meet his friend afterward," said Lam, 48. "I find it very disturbing that these people have no regard for others."

Hong Kong's 6.9 million people have more than 5.2 million mobile phones -- more than three phones for every four people -- making it one of the most densely cellular places on the planet.

Perhaps realizing any restrictions could leave numerous mobile users unhappy, telecommunications officials are carrying out a public consultation before deciding on the cellphone jammers.

Jeff Lam, operations manager at a major local chain of movie houses, the UA Cinema Circuit, likes the idea of some regulations ensuring peace for the movie-goers. "The audience should be free from the disruption from other people's phone calls while they are watching a film," Lam said.

His company recently surveyed 6,000 patrons of its eight movie houses but has not yet tabulated the findings.

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