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Hong Kong’s market for fixed broadband services is keenly competitive. Most of the residential users now have a choice of two or more fixed network operators, and the intense competition in the market has brought about better service quality and lower prices for consumers. Before subscribing to a fixed broadband service, a smart consumer should compare the price as well as the terms and conditions of various service plans offered by different operators, and pay attention to the following points:

1. Prices of Service Plans

Fixed network operators usually charge different prices for different fixed broadband service plans, which depend on a wide range of factors, such as broadband speed, other services (e.g. Wi-Fi, fixed telephone line, pay television and other value-added services) bundled in the plan, gifts and other promotional offers associated with the plan, as well as the length of the contract period. You should read carefully the terms and conditions of the service plan offered by an operator including the minimum subscription period, and compare it with the service plans offered by other operators so as to choose the service plan that best fits your needs.

In addition, it is not uncommon that operators may offer the same fixed broadband service plan at different prices or with different discounts subject to the locations or channels of sale, including telephone hotlines, website, mobile sales booths and retail stores. Where possible, you are advised to check the different offers or discounts available from different sale channels and locations of the operators you may subscribe to before making the subscription decision.

2. Entering into a Fixed-Term Contract

A customer bound by a fixed-term contract will usually be required to pay a penalty / liquidated damage / installation charge if he/she terminates the contract before expiration of the contract period. In this regard, you are advised to check carefully the termination charges and arrangement with the operator before entering into a fixed-term contract.

3. Speed of the Fixed Broadband Service

The speed of the fixed broadband service supported by a fixed network operator will depend on the location of as well as the technology used by the operator in providing the broadband connection at the customer premises. Even if the speed claimed by an operator may appear attractive, you should be aware that it is likely to be the maximum possible speed available at the connection interface but not the actual data download speed that you may experience. The actual data download speed is affected by a variety of factors, including data throughput capacity of the destination web servers you are downloading from, performance and configuration of your user device, software and application used, international bandwidth, and number of users sharing access bandwidth, etc. If you have installed a Wi-Fi router to provide wireless broadband access within your premises, the actual data download speed available will also be subject to the version of Wi-Fi standard supported by the router and the number of user devices connecting to the router. If in doubt, you are advised to consult your operators or equipment vendors about the performance of the network or equipment.

4. Over-the-top (“OTT”) Content Services

At present, consumers have access to video services provided by content providers over the Internet, commonly known as OTT content services, using their broadband connections. In this regard, some fixed network operators may partner with individual OTT content providers to offer fixed broadband service packages bundled with the rights to view certain pay OTT content services. Before subscribing to a fixed broadband service, you may wish to check and confirm with the operator whether the pay OTT content services you are interested in are included as part of the package.

5. Installation and Wiring

In some cases, new wiring, re-wiring or the use of unconcealed wiring may have to be arranged at your premises for the provision of fixed broadband service. You should ask about the installation and wiring arrangement and where necessary, arrange a site visit by the concerned operator to your premises before making a subscription decision.

6. Relocation to a New Address

Should you need to change the installation location of your existing fixed broadband service when you move to a new address before expiration of the contract period, you should check with your operator whether your new address is covered by its fixed broadband network and whether it has sufficient network capacity to provide service to you for the relocation. You should also check with the operator whether and how the relocation during the contract period will be charged.

In case it is not feasible for the operator to provide the service at your relocated address due to absence of network coverage or insufficient network capacity, and you wish to terminate the service contract, you should make reference to the terms and conditions therein to ascertain your right and obligation in that circumstance.

7. Termination and Renewal of Service Contract

If you wish to switch to another fixed network operator, you should check with your existing operator about the advance notice requirement as there may be different notification periods for different operators. Without giving a sufficient notice on termination to your operator, you may be charged for payment in lieu of notice. If your existing service contract is of a fixed-term, early termination may likely incur charges.

In making request for service termination, you should understand the procedure adopted by your operator, including (a) how a service termination notification shall be given to the operator; and (b) how the customer equipment shall be returned to the operator. To enhance service information transparency and to better inform consumers, OFCA has published on its website the Service Termination Arrangements for Residential Broadband Services summarising the practices adopted by individual operators.

There should be no automatic extension or renewal of the term of a contract upon expiry, unless with explicit consent of the customer. Some operators may continue to provide the service to you at the prevailing market rate or as specified in the contract. Therefore, you should refer to the relevant terms and conditions of the contract or enquire with the operator direct for possible arrangements on the termination or renewal of service contract.

All in all, there are ample choices of fixed broadband services available in the market, a smart consumer should always check and compare the service plans being offered and understand clearly the terms and conditions of a service plan.

There is no hurry and it is always desirable to shop around before picking a service plan that best suits your needs.

From July 2011, personal or residential users entering into new telecommunications service contracts or renewing their telecommunications service contracts will be afforded enhanced protection with the implementation of the Industry Code of Practice for Telecommunications Service Contracts (the “Industry Code”) (available at "http://www.cahk.hk/index.php/projects/code-of-conduct/2015-03-19-14-01-00") by all major fixed and mobile network operators. Consumers are advised to make reference to the Industry Code for details before signing a telecommunications service contract.