Sat, Jan 08, 2011 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Amendment seeks to end cable TV monopoly

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff Reporter

Retired junior high school teacher, Mrs Lin (林) watches TV every day and depends heavily on her cable TV service, so imagine her frustration when the cable service, for which she pays NT$550 a month, suddenly stopped working.

“I called the company and complained about the problem,” said Lin, a resident in Taipei City’s Shihlin (士林) District. “I dialed into this complicated voice system, where you had to listen to the instructions very carefully. If you missed one step, you had to do it all over again. It took me a while before I could talk to a customer service representative.”

Her cable service was not restored until the next day, she said.

“If there were more cable television operators in our district, we could compare prices and services,” she said. “So far, this service is the only one available to us.”

Mrs Kuo (郭) in Taoyuan County had a similar experience when she needed to call the cable operator to ask for information.

“Nowadays, I spend more time downloading movies or TV series online than watching programs on TV,” she said. “There is really not much to watch on TV.”

The issues facing Lin and Kuo, as well as the nation’s other 5 million cable TV subscribers could soon be addressed because the National Communications Commission (NCC) is planning to redefine cable TV service areas and give interested new players an opportunity to enter the market.

According to the NCC, its plan to amend the Cable Television Act (有線廣播電視法) would enable cable service providers to expand their operations nationwide, provided that the number of subscribers does not exceed one-third of the total nationwide.

The main reason for redefining the service area and amending the act is to end existing monopolies in nearly all service areas across the nation, it said.

Two small service areas could become one big new service area with two or more competitors in the field, making it difficult for any single player to monopolize the market, the NCC added.

In November last year, the NCC approved Dafu Media’s (大富媒體) -purchase of cable systems owned by the multiple system operator (MSO) Kbro Co (凱擘).

Dafu was created by Richard Tsai (蔡明興) and Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠), who also serve as chairman and president of Taiwan Mobile Co (台灣大哥大), the second-largest telecom carrier in Taiwan. National Communications Commission (NCC) spokesperson Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) said the NCC granted approval after Dafu set the goal of having 50 percent of its subscribers use digital cable service by 2015, the same goal that the Executive Yuan has set for the nation, he said.

“The commission hoped that Dafu would take the lead in the industry to encourage more cable system operators to offer digital cable service,” Chen said.

In addition to the Dafu-Kbro deal, media reports indicate that Want Want Group (旺旺集團) has purchased China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉), the second-largest MSO in the nation. CNS will have to apply to the NCC for a change of ownership before it can finalize the deal.

Roy Lee (李淳), an associate research fellow at the Taiwan WTO Center at the Chunghwa Institution for Economic Research, said it is “very possible” that the NCC would use the two guiding principles outlined in Dafu’s commitments as it reviews the CNS buyout — that Dafu would not abuse its status as a dominant market player by putting up obstacles to competition among different communication platforms and that it would make specific promises on the provision of digital cable TV service.

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