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Fri, Jan 07, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Ma slams cable TV `monopolies'

POOR RECEPTION Taipei's mayor believes more competition and closer supervision will end the wars between cable operators, but the central government disagrees

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬-^?E) yesterday blasted what he called a monopoly of the local cable TV market by conglomerates, urging the central government to open up licensing of cable companies to curb what he labeled a "chaotic" market.

But the Government Information Office (GIO) poured cold water on Ma's suggestions, saying opening up licensing was no panacea as Taiwan's limited market will only lead to industry mergers.

Ma unleashed his attack on the cable TV industry at yesterday's Cabinet meeting that came in the wake of the city government's move to penalize four cable companies for failing to stop the broadcast of unlicensed channels.

All four are run under the banner of Eastern Multimedia Co Ltd (東森媒體科?THORN>股份?膝q), including Yangming (陽明?s), King (金頻1D), DW (?j|w??s) and Hsinyi Huanle (信義歡樂) cable TV companies.

The four were fined a total of NT$12 million on Tuesday and Wednesday. They finally agreed to stop broadcasting the unlicensed channels after the GIO's intervention in the dispute Wednesday, GIO officials announced later that evening.

But Ma said the representatives behind the unlicensed channels had shown "outrageous" attitudes when negotiating with city officials.

"An elected official on the national level even sent out a message that he would prepare NT$100 million to pay the fines," Ma said yesterday afternoon, when asked about his statements at the morning Cabinet meeting.

"Such a mentality means that as long as you are rich, you can break the law. We consider that totally unacceptable," Ma said.

"So at the Cabinet meeting I said that if this person was prepared to pay NT$100 million, then I would fine him more than that," he said.

When asked if he would publicly identify the elected official, Ma said, "everybody knows who he is, so there is no need for me to announce it."

Independent legislator Tsai Hau (1/22豪), the president of the Global Broadcasting Co Ltd, a channel agent company still awaiting a license from the GIO, was named by the Chinese-language media as the "elected official" in question.

Tsai denied Ma's accusation.

"I never talked about the money. I only said there is no need [for the city government] to try to suppress us with fines," Tsai told the Taipei Times yesterday.

"Besides," he said, "I am not a part of a conglomerate. I am only an ordinary citizen."

But Tsai has been associated with the Eastern Multimedia group, one of the two conglomerates that have control over 80 percent of the cable TV market, including both channel agents and system operation businesses.

Acting on a request from the city council's education committee earlier in the week, Ma outlined several measures at the Cabinet meeting aimed at improving the cable TV market.

The major suggestion was to urge the GIO to allow more cable companies to offer service in a single district, thereby offering consumers more choice.

After the Cabinet meeting, GIO director Chao Yi (趙怡) told reporters that Ma's suggestion was not feasible. He said opening up the market would only result in more mergers because the size of the cable TV market in each district is not big enough to sustain several companies.

Chao said the fact that the number of cable companies islandwide shrank from 600 to the current level of about 70 since the early 1990s is an indication of the limited size of Taiwan's market.

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