75 local villages still waiting for fibre optic upgrade as they battle slow internet

Insert picture: Francis Fong. Background picture: Tai O Village.

15th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) 75 villages in Hong Kong’s more remote areas continue to grapple with sluggish internet speeds, reminiscent of the 3G era, while awaiting the rollout of fibre optic infrastructure promised as part of the government’s smart city vision. Despite the government’s pledge to enhance digital connectivity across the territory, the ambitious project to install fibre optics in rural and outlying areas has progressed at a lethargic pace, with completion not expected until 2026.

Launched in 2018, the government’s HK$700 million initiative aimed to bridge the digital divide affecting approximately 235 villages in the New Territories and outlying islands. However, to date, only 160 villages have seen the completion of fibre optic infrastructure works, leaving around 75 villages with internet speeds capped at a mere 8 Mbps—barely sufficient for basic online activities. As of February this year, only Project 5, which includes Lamma Island, has completed all its tasks. Project 1 (North District), Project 3 (parts of Sha Tin District, parts of Tai Po District, Yuen Long District, Tuen Mun District, Tsuen Wan District, and Kwai Tsing District), Project 4 (parts of Sha Tin District and parts of Sai Kung District), and Project 6 (Lantau Island, Cheung Chau, and Peng Chau) have only reached the first milestone, covering 30% of the villages. Project 2 (parts of Tai Po District and parts of Sai Kung District) has reached the second milestone, covering 70% of the villages.

Francis Fong, Honorary President of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, elucidated the severity of the situation by comparing the current speeds to those experienced during the 3G mobile network era. “For residents in these areas, streaming a video could mean enduring constant buffering and extremely low resolution, turning even a simple act of sending a photo via messaging apps into a minute-long ordeal,” Fong explained.

The slow pace of this rollout has had practical repercussions for residents and businesses alike. For instance, Cheung Chi-ming, who has lived and worked in the fishing village of Tai O for over 50 years, recounted the pre-fibre era of frequent disconnections that disrupted electronic payments—a critical feature for his retail business. The situation improved significantly for some villagers and merchants mid-last year when fibre optic was finally introduced, boosting speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, thereby stabilising payment systems and enhancing leisure and business activities online.

In the educational sector, the arrival of fibre optics has transformed teaching methodologies. Wong Ming-fat, a teacher at Mui Wo School, reported that the new network supports interactive online learning with multiple devices simultaneously, fostering a more engaging educational environment for students.

Christine Chim, head of Market & Competition at the Office of the Communications Authority, emphasised that the subsidised fibration project not only promotes the proliferation of high-speed broadband services in these under-served areas but also lays the foundational infrastructure necessary for other telecommunications services like 5G and Wi-Fi. “The completion of this large-scale project, which involves significant engineering challenges such as excavation and construction in remote or park areas, is anticipated by 2026 and is expected to benefit around 110,000 villagers,” Chim stated.