image 1

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.

Expand AllCollapse All
Guidelines on Work near Underground Telecommunications Lines

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.

Underground Telecommunications Lines Detection Report

What are the precautionary steps and measures to follow when working near underground telecommunications lines?

The following precautionary steps should follow before work begins:

  1. Collect telecommunications lines layout plans;
  2. Locate underground telecommunications lines;
  3. Ascertain alignment and depth; and
  4. Prepare detection report by competent person.

The following precautionary measures should be taken for working near underground telecommunications lines:

  1. Maintaining horizontal clearance from underground telecommunications lines;
  2. Careful use of hand tools and mechanical excavators;
  3. Protection to underground telecommunications lines during work;
  4. Reporting damage to underground telecommunications lines;
  5. Adequate site supervision; and
  6. Coordinating Emergency situation.

For details, please refer to Section F and Section G of the Guidelines.

What are the obligations of fixed network operators ("FNOs") to facilitate the detection of underground telecommunications lines?

The FNOs shall -

  1. maintain and update records on as-built alignments of their telecommunications lines, and ensure the accuracy of such records;
  2. provide the working party, upon request, with the most up-to-date drawings/plans of their underground telecommunications lines within the agreed or reasonable time frame;
  3. provide reasonable and sufficient protection for their underground telecommunications lines such as laying optical fibre cables and copper cables in uPVC ducts; and
  4. upon commencement of section 18A of the TO, install tracer wire or equivalent that is properly grounded to enable detection of their installed telecommunications lines for a new underground telecommunications lines (including cable duct), and as far as practicable whenever (i) a new telecommunications cable is added to an existing cable duct; or (ii) any maintenance or excavation work is performed to repair, remove, replace or relocate an existing underground telecommunications line or cable, or any combination thereof.

For details, please refer to Section E of the Guidelines.

List of FNOs Authorised to Place and Maintain Underground Telecommunications Lines

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

List of Competent Persons
Application for Approval as Competent Person

To be qualified for approval as a competent person, the applicant should meet the following requirements—

  1. the applicant is a competent person approved by Electrical and Mechanical Services Department ("EMSD") under the Electricity Supply Lines (Protection) Regulation (Cap. 406H) ("ESLPR") for locating the underground electricity cables and holds a relevant certificate of approval issued by EMSD with a remaining validity period of at least six months; and
  2. the applicant has attended and passed a training course recognized by OFCA in relation to the detection of underground telecommunications line.

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.

Validity Period of Approval

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.

Renewal of Approval

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.

Suspension or Revocation of Approval

OFCA may suspend or revoke a person’s approval as a competent person if –

  1. the person has been convicted of an offence under section 22A of the Ordinance;
  2. the person has failed to perform or no longer capable of performing the duties of a competent person;
  3. the person obtained his/her approval by fraud or on the basis of misleading or inaccurate information;
  4. the approval was granted in error;
  5. the person has acted in breach of any condition of the approval; or
  6. the approval granted to the person by EMSD as a competent person under ESLPR has been suspended or revoked.
Notice of Change of Particulars

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.

How to Apply

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:

  1. Obtain application form from:
    1. Download here the application form – CA-CP FORM
    2. OFCA office in 29/F, Wu Chung House, 213 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
    3. Online Application
  2. Complete the application form according to the requirements stipulated therein
  3. Submit the completed application form together with supporting documents:
    1. in person or by post to:

      Section 12, Market and Competition Branch,
      OFCA, 29/F, Wu Chung House,
      213 Queen's Road East,
      Wan Chai, Hong Kong
    2. by fax to 2123 2187; or
    3. by email to:
Training Course Providers
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
Website: https://www.hkic.edu.hk/eng/course/fdut
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
Website: https://cpe.vtc.edu.hk/en/admission/programmes/探測地下電訊線路/81501T
Frequently Asked Questions
What is underground telecommunications line?
Pursuant to section 2 of the Ordinance, "underground telecommunications line" means a telecommunications line located below ground level in any land that is not seabed. Whereas "telecommunications line" means any wire, cable, duct, optical fibre, filament, line, pipe, pole, post, tube, conduit, support structure, ancillary equipment or apparatus or other physical medium used or intended for use as a continuous artificial guide for or in connection with telecommunications.
What is work near underground telecommunications line?
"Work near underground telecommunications line" refer to the types of work (excluding any precautionary steps or measures described in the Guidelines) listed in the following table which are conducted at a work site where the separation between the work site boundary and the underground telecommunications line is within the distance specified:

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
# The measurement is taken from the centre line of the underground telecommunications line to determine whether work will be considered near an underground telecommunications line.
What are the offences in relation to the breach of the provisions for protection of underground telecommunications lines under the amended TO?

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 –

  1. failure to take all reasonable steps before the work begins to ascertain whether any underground telecommunications line exists within or near the proposed work site, and (if so) the alignment and depth of the concerned line, is liable to a fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for 6 months;
  2. failure to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to prevent any damage to an underground telecommunications line or any interruption to a telecommunications service arising from the work is liable to a fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for 6 months;
  3. if the offence of (b) results in an interruption to a telecommunications service, it is liable to a fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for 12 months; and
  4. if the offence of (b) and (c) continues, an additional fine of $10,000 per day.
Complaint against a Suspected Contravention of Section 18A of the TO on “Requirements relating to Work near Underground Telecommunications Lines”
Other Reference Materials
Relevant provisions of the TO

An excerpt of the amended TO relevant to the protection of underground telecommunications lines

2. Interpretation

(1) In this Ordinance, unless the context otherwise requires —

……
operative guideline (有效指引), in relation to an act or omission, means a guideline issued by the Authority under section 6D that is in force at the time of the act or omission;

underground telecommunications line (地下電訊線路) means a telecommunications line located below ground level in any land that is not seabed;
……

……

18A. Requirements relating to work near underground telecommunications lines

(1) A person must not carry out, or cause or permit another to carry out, any work below ground level near an underground telecommunications line, unless the person takes, before the work begins, all reasonable steps to ascertain—

(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.

(2) If a person carries out, or causes or permits another to carry out, any work below ground level at a work site within which, or near which, an underground telecommunications line exists, the person must ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to prevent—

(a) any damage to the line; or

(b) any interruption to a telecommunications service,

arising from the work.

22A. Contravention of section 18A an offence

(1) A person who contravenes section 18A(1) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 6 months.
(2) A person who contravenes section 18A(2) commits an offence and is liable on conviction—

(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,

and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine of $10,000 for every day during which the offence continues.
(3) In proceedings against a person for an offence under subsection (1), it is for the person to show that the person took, before the work began, all reasonable steps to ascertain—

(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.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), if the person shows that the person complied with an operative guideline relating to taking reasonable steps as referred to in section 18A(1), the person is taken to have shown that the person took all reasonable steps.
(5) In proceedings against a person for an offence under subsection (2), it is a defence for the person to show that the person complied with an operative guideline relating to taking reasonable measures as referred to in section 18A(2).
(6) Also, it is a defence for the person charged with an offence under subsection (2) to show that—

(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

(1) This section applies in relation to criminal proceedings before a magistrate or a court in which a person is alleged to have committed an offence under section 22A(1) or (2).
(2) A provision of an operative guideline that appears to the magistrate or the court to be relevant to the alleged offence is admissible in evidence in the proceedings.
(3) Also, if—

(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,

the prosecution may rely on the failure as tending to prove the matter.
(4) However, subsection (3) does not apply if the person shows that, for the matter referred to in subsection (3)(a), a requirement alleged to have been contravened was complied with other than by complying with the provision of the operative guideline.

......

32CA. Burden of proof

A person is taken to have shown a matter that needs to be shown under section 22A(3), (4), (5) or (6) or 22B(4) if—

(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.

......

Enquiry

Telephone: 2961 6420
Fax: 2123 2187
Email: