In Hong Kong, underground spaces, especially in urban areas, are packed with various important facilities. Among these underground facilities are telecommunications ducts, optical fibre cables and copper wires that provide territory-wide coverage of telecommunications services. The potential disruption caused by accidental damage to underground telecommunications facilities could be very serious.
Under the Telecommunications (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 (the "Ordinance"), it is a criminal offence against any person who does not take reasonable steps to protect or fails to prevent damage to an underground telecommunications line when carrying out any work below ground level near the line, pursuant to sections 18A and 22A of the new amendments to the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106) ("TO"). The new amendments to the TO has come into operation since 24 June 2022.
The Communications Authority has issued the Guidelines on Work near Underground Telecommunications Lines (the "Guidelines") to provide relevant stakeholders with practical guidance for compliance with the relevant provisions of the amended TO.
Compliance with the Guidelines may be raised as a defence for a person charged under section 22A of the amended TO for contravention of section 18A. Pursuant to section 22B, a provision of the Guidelines that appears to the magistrate or the court to be relevant to an offence under section 22A is admissible in evidence in the proceedings.
The following precautionary steps should follow before work begins:
The following precautionary measures should be taken for working near underground telecommunications lines:
For details, please refer to Section F and Section G of the Guidelines.
The FNOs shall -
For details, please refer to Section E of the Guidelines.
The working party shall approach all relevant FNOs to obtain the necessary information, in particular the telecommunications lines layout plans before any work begins. The list of relevant FNOs is available here.
The list of relevant FNOs may change from time to time, the working party is advised to check regularly for any updates in the list. For contact information of individual company, please contact OFCA at
To be qualified for approval as a competent person, the applicant should meet the following requirements—
OFCA may grant its approval to an applicant subject to such conditions as it reasonably thinks fit. Further, OFCA may refuse an application for approval if a previous approval granted to the applicant has been suspended or revoked.
An approval as a competent person granted by OFCA shall be valid for a period of three years.
OFCA will issue to the competent person a certificate confirming the approval and specifying the period of validity of the approval and the conditions, if any, subject to which the approval has been granted. Before the expiry of the period of validity, the competent person shall make an application to OFCA for renewal of approval as a competent person and issue of a new certificate.
Application for renewal of approval as a competent person shall be made at least one month, but not earlier than four months, before the expiry of the current approval.
An approval which is renewed based on the requirements stated shall be valid for a further period of three years.
OFCA may suspend or revoke a person’s approval as a competent person if –
Where there is any change in the particulars of the name or address of a person who is approved as a competent person, the person shall give written notice to OFCA of the changed particulars within 21 days after the change takes place.
Application for approval or renewal of approval as a competent person shall be made to OFCA. The application is free of charge.
The applicant may submit application following the procedures below:
|Course Title||Name & Address of Organizer|
|Detection of Underground Telecommunications Lines||Hong Kong Institute of Construction Sheung Shui Campus
1 Fung Nam Road, Sheung Shui, New Territories
Enquiry: 2100 9000
|Detection of Underground Telecommunications Lines||Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE)
Engineering Discipline In-service Training Office
Rm B322, 20 Tsing Yi Road, Tsing Yi Island, N.T.
Enquiry: 2435 9423
|Types of underground work||Distance from underground telecommunications line#|
|Trench or other excavation work in stable ground conditions up to 1.5 metres in depth||3 metres|
|Trench or other excavation work in stable ground conditions over 1.5 metres and up to 5 metres in depth||5 metres|
|Trench or other excavation work in stable ground conditions over 5 metres in depth||10 metres|
|Vertical, horizontal or inclined penetration including sheet piling, ground investigation and any kind of drilling or core sampling or ramming – either by hand tools, hand-held power tools or machines||3 metres|
|Welding or other hot work near exposed segments of an underground telecommunications line||10 metres|
|Piling, percussion moling or pipe jacking||15 metres|
|Any form of tunnelling, boring, driving headings, cable/pipe jacking||Always consult FNOs beforehand|
|Use of explosives||60 metres|
Under sections 18A and 22A of the amended TO, any person who does not take reasonable steps to protect or fails to prevent damage to an underground telecommunications line when carrying out work below ground level near the line will constitute criminal offences as follows –
An excerpt of the amended TO relevant to the protection of underground telecommunications lines
18A. Requirements relating to work near underground telecommunications lines
(a) whether any underground telecommunications line exists within or near the proposed work site; and
(b) if so—the alignment and depth of the line.
(a) any damage to the line; or
(b) any interruption to a telecommunications service,
22A. Contravention of section 18A an offence
(a) if the contravention results in an interruption to a telecommunications service—to a fine of $200,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months; or
(b) in any other case—to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 6 months,
(a) whether any underground telecommunications line existed at the time within or near the proposed work site; and
(b) if so—the alignment and depth of the line.
(a) the person took, before the work began, all reasonable steps for the purposes of section 18A(1); and
(b) any failure to take all reasonable measures for the purposes of section 18A(2) was due to reliance on information provided by the licensee authorized to place and maintain the underground telecommunications line concerned.
22B. Use of guidelines in criminal proceedings under section 22A
(a) a provision of the operative guideline appears to the magistrate or the court to be relevant to a matter that the prosecution must prove in order to establish the offence; and
(b) the prosecution has proved that the person failed to comply with the provision at the relevant time,
32CA. Burden of proof
(a) there is sufficient evidence to raise an issue with respect to the matter; and
(b) the contrary is not proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt.