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Tue, Jan 18, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Southern cable TV firms could face punishment

CABLE WARS As legislators demand an end to cable monopolies, a Cabinet-level watchdog committee says that it has evidence some operators violated the law

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Officials from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC, 公平交易委員會) admitted yesterday that they have evidence of alleged wrongdoing by cable TV operators in southern Taiwan during the recent dispute between cable operators and channel agents.

"We dispatched personnel to the south to investigate the allegations two weeks ago. We've collected evidence proving that certain businessmen violated the law," Chang En-sheng (張恩生), deputy director of the first section in charge of service industry at the FTC, said. "If this evidence can be further confirmed, the violators will be punished according to regulations in the Fair Trade Law."

Chang's comments came amid continuing clamor from legislators over the alleged monopolization of Taiwan's cable TV market.

Legislators and independent cable operators alleged yesterday that the FTC had turned a deaf ear to complaints about uncompetitive practices in local cable TV operations.

However, FTC statistics show that it has punished cable TV operators in 28 cases so far, with fines totalling NT$32.5 million.

But lawmakers said the government should do more to curb what they term a virtual monopoly in the cable TV market.

Citing statistics provided by independent operators, DPP legislator Tsai Huang-lang (蔡煌瑯) said two conglomerates have each violated the law by running several cable systems -- exceeding one-third of the total number of systems nationwide.

"The system operators under the banners of the two conglomerates have already broken the law," he said.

The conglomerates Tsai referred to are the Rebar Corp's Eastern Multimedia (Eastern) and United Communications of the Koo's Group (United), two of Taiwan's largest and most powerful communications giants.

Statistics provided by independent operators show that of 94 operators in Taiwan, 25 are run by Eastern or its affiliates and 32 by the United, while another 34 are independent.

But officials from the Government Information Office (GIO) yesterday said that independent operators have been fudging the numbers.

"Everyone knows that the number of current cable TV system operators is less than 94," C.J. Chang (張崇仁), director of the GIO's radio and television affairs department, said.

GIO statistics show that of the 74 licensed system operators that have registered with the office, Eastern controls 13, while United runs 12.

The number of system operations controlled by each of the conglomerates has not exceeded the legal ceiling of one-third of the national market, Chang said. Therefore, he said, the FTC was not entitled to inspect what critics have often dubbed a "horizontal monopoly."

But lawmakers said they have weapons to fight against the monopoly -- including amending the cable broadcasting and television law to reduce the ceiling for individual system operators from the current one-third to one-fifth.

Article 21 of the law states that the number of system operators shall not exceed one-third of the total number of system operations in the nation.

The system operators refers also to their affiliates and their directly or indirectly controlled system operators.

DPP legislator Fang Sun-lu (范巽綠) said that when the Legislative Yuan amended the law in 1999, her colleagues were already engaged in a heated debate over the ceiling for individual system operators. Fang said since the existing regulation failed to curb the growth of monopolies, the Legislative Yuan must amend the related article.

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