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Thu, Jan 06, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Fair Trade Commission denies cable monopoly

CABLE TV The FTC does not believe there is a case to be made for monopoly conduct in the cable sector at the present time, but independent operators and consumer groups continue to be put under pressure from the big operators

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former legislator Yu Ling-ya, an independent cable television operator in Kaohsiung, became emotional when she told of the difficulty of competing with conglomerates that are both cable television operators and channel agents.


The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) has ruled that it currently sees no signs of monopoly in the local cable TV market.

This statement was made after independent cable TV operators, media experts and consumers' rights groups yesterday called on the FTC to investigate the alleged monopoly by conglomerates of the local cable TV market.

"The commission has not discovered any illegal concerted action on the part of cable operators so far, but it will keep an eye out for any developments," said the FTC's deputy chairman Liu Tsung-jung (劉宗榮).

Independent cable operators disagreed, claiming two multi-system operators, Eastern Multimedia and United Communications, are monopolizing the cable TV market as well as aligning themselves with major channel agents.

"They [referring to the two conglomerates] are in control of the cable TV market and are gradually squeezing us out," said Frank Lai (賴?撊?/CHINESE>), secretary general of the cable TV operators' association, which primarily represents independent cable TV operators.

The two groups control over two-thirds of Taiwan's cable TV market, and are also aligned with the biggest channel agent in Taiwan, forming what he calls the "three-in-one" (?T|X?@) group to manipulate the market mechanism, Lai said.

At the beginning of each year, cable providers and channel agents who provide programming such as HBO and Cinemax regularly engage in price wars. Cable companies shut down some of the most popular movie channels such as HBO or move them to higher channel numbers if the price offered by the agents for these channels are not to their satisfaction.

Lai said the channel agent for HBO was pressured by two conglomerates to lower their price during recent negotiations. This was clearly a concerted effort by larger cable operators, he added.

He also said the cable companies under the banner of the two conglomerates threatened to shut down HBO channels if their negotiation over contract renewal failed.

The Government Information Office stepped in as a mediator between the two parties and yesterday was able to announce that cable operators under the two conglomerates had agreed to continue broadcasting HBO even as negotiations continued past the current expiration of their contract on Jan 8.

Lai said that independent cable TV companies like his own in Taichung are under similar pressure.

"The intention of the `three-in-one' group is clear -- to exterminate independent system operators [cable companies] once and for all," he said.

Other independent cable operators also accused the Cabinet-level FTC of "ignoring the monopoly" in the local cable TV market by the two conglomerates.

Roger Hsi (2蔇撘w), a media expert at the Fujen Catholic University, said the FTC is "the best judge" to decide whether the two giants have taken concerted action to determine the prices of goods before going to the bargaining tables with the independent cable operators.

Joann Su (蘇錦霞), secretary general of Taiwan's Consumers' Foundation, said the FTC should investigate the "serious" monopoly in the current cable TV market to safeguard consumers' rights.

The two conglomerates have control over 80 percent of the local cable TV market, and there is often only one cable provider in each district, depriving consumers' of the right to choose from various cable providers, she said.

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