The National Communications Commission (NCC) yesterday fined 28 cable TV operators who replaced the channels of the Eastern Home Shopping Leisure and Co (EHS, 東森得易購) with those of U-life Co (森森百貨) in contravention of the Cable Television Act (有線廣播電視法).
The channels were fined a total of NT$19.6 million (US$612,500), or NT$700,000 each, for neglecting to file applications to change their operational plans in advance.
“They must also stop airing the U-life channels before 12am on Thursday and resume transmission of the original channels,” NCC spokesperson Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) said. “Otherwise, the commission will continue to fine them.”
Chen said the commission would also dispatch officials to each of the operators and hand the NCC ruling to them in person. They will also check whether any of the operators were still broadcasting U-life channels.
The commission will also refer the case to the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) to determine if the 28 cable TV operators had conspired to monopolize the market, Chen said.
Yesterday’s ruling also set a record for the largest number of cable TV operators fined since the Cable Television Act (有線電視法) was promulgated in 1993.
Huang Chin-yi (黃金益), deputy director of the NCC’s communication content department, said that if the cable TV operators continue to broadcast U-life channels after tomorrow, they will be given notices again detailing their penalties.
“The interval between the time each penalty is issued will be shortened, and each time the fines may exceed NT$700,000,” Huang said, adding that the commission may issue NT$100,000 fines next time.
The Act stipulates that cable operators must obtain NCC approval to change channels. The fine for such transgressions can range between NT$100,000 and NT$1 million.
Chen also said that the independent committee reviewing the cable TV operators would convene today to review applications from the operators to change their operating plans, which were submitted on Dec. 31.
Currently, only 20 of them have submitted applications.
Chen said that the penalty of NT$700,000 was set because the unexpected channel change has potentially affected about 2.3 million cable TV viewers nationwide and was deemed a serious offense.
“All operators know that they are supposed to file applications for any change in channel placement at least a month in advance of any changes,” Chen said. “They have been following the same procedures for years. This time, they knew what they did was illegal, but they did it anyway.”
Submitting the applications only a day before the official channel switch left the NCC with insufficient time to review each case, Chen said.
NCC Chairwoman Bonnie Peng (彭芸) told the legislature’s Finance Committee yesterday that it had warned cable TV operators not to try to test the limits of the commission by making illegal changes during a national holiday.
Meanwhile, the war between the two home-shopping networks continued yesterday, with EHS publishing a full-page advertisement in the Chinese-language Apple Daily mourning the “death of justice” in Taiwan. EHS chairwoman Mary Leong (梁馬利) also blamed President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for failing to protect foreign investors.
On Sunday, Leong also accused U-life of “robbing EHS’ home.”
U-life filed a complaint at the FTC against EHS yesterday for allegedly creating unfair competition in the marketplace.