After a five-month standoff, China has given consent for Britain to issue Wharf Cable a license for construction of a HK$ 1 billion ($ 129 million) cable system serving 1.3 million Hong Kong households.

The individual system would be the largest in the world, and Wharf would have a 12-year franchise with a three-year exclusivity clause preventing competition while it establishes itself.

The colonial government OK’d the franchise last year, but its formal award was delayed by threats from China to revoke all British-issued contracts after 1997, when Hong Kong reverts to control by China. China was angered by new Gov. Chris Patten’s intention to democratize the colonial-style government before the hand back.

Since the row erupted, Wharf has remained confident enough to invest HK$ 600 million ($ 77.9 million) into advancing the project so it now has headquarters, 200 of the 1,500 staff they want and millions of dollars worth of equipment.

The supply side

In addition, Wharf has several program-supply deals (including one with CNN) that have been advanced far enough that once the license is ratified signatures will complete the transactions.

Stephen Ng, Wharf’s managing director, said because the foundations had been set in place the company was “on target for an October launch.”

Wharf would transmit to 80% of Hong Kong in 18 months via microwave signals but replace the radio transmission with a hard-wire service targeted for competition within five years.

Thursday was also a good news day for the chairman of STAR-TV board, Li Ka Shing, who got the nod from China for extension of his Hong Kong Electric Co. utility supply license, enabling that company to continue as one of the colony’s two electricity suppliers.

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