ESF Subvention finally abolished (in 2029)

It has been apparent for at least 10 years that the government had no wish to continue subsidizing the ESF.  The real surprise is that it has taken so long to make this decision - and it will only start to take effect three years from now, with some subsidy remaining in place for another 13 years (until the last pupils admitted to ESF primary schools in August 2015 complete their studies).

The SCMP has two news stories and one opinion piece:

Decision to end ESF subsidy a lesson in Machiavellian ruthlessness

South China Morning Post | Saturday, 08 June, 2013 | Alex Lo

Shock and horror! Fees for schools under the English Schools Foundation from 2016 will be at least 23 per cent higher as the government phases out the public subsidy.

But you would expect that. The die was cast once the Education Bureau announced it would phase out the current subsidy. You want to know how much ESF parents will eventually have to pay? Just check out the fees of other international schools.

The decision to end the subsidy after freezing payment for a decade may go down in history as one of the most ruthless made by this administration. But before you pick up your pitchfork and bay for blood, it's not entirely the fault of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his education secretary, Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Of course it is their fault for allowing it to happen. But I am actually not sure they know what they are doing with the ESF in the sense they almost certainly did not come up with the policy decision - those immediately below Ng within the bureau did.

There is an almost Machiavellian elegance to the decision - if you discount its irresponsibility, unfairness and immorality. You can be sure our clueless Mr Ng would never come up with something so clever; this is reserved for the senior administrative officials within the bureau, not a few of whom - I bet - are, or were, ESF parents.

Let's see what this decision really means. Taxpayers' money will be saved. The ESF is certain to prosper, as it will be able to charge high fees and million-dollar debentures on a par with other international schools. The government can claim it is helping to boost international school places without lifting a finger. It is also a populist decision as many local families resent the real or perceived special treatment given to the ESF as an old colonial institution.

But it is never explained why it is no longer the government's responsibility to support affordable education for non-Chinese-speaking children of residents or permanent residents. Nor is it clear why local families should be left to their own devices once they leave the local system and join the international school sector.

But the reality is that these families are on their own unless they can pay the high school fees.

The government’s official reason for ending the subvention is that it "flies in the face of the government's policy of not providing recurrent subsidy to schools mainly running non-local curriculum."

It’s the word “mainly” that appears to be the crucial one.  Schools operating under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) are allowed to have 49% of their students in an “international” stream that leads to qualifications such as IGCSE and IB Diploma, but must have 51% studying for local exams.

It would be a huge change to the ESF to be able to satisfy the DSS rules, and so the ESF Board has accepted the government decision but they have arranged meetings with parents to get their views.  Expect these meetings to be lively, and ESF management will be heavily criticized, but current parents are not the ones who will lose the most from this decision, and it’s not possible to consult with parents of future ESF students.

On Friday, the HK Standard quoted Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim on the lack of international school places, saying that “international schools [should] consider devising an allocation mechanism such as a certain proportion of places being earmarked for children whose parents are recruited or relocated from outside Hong Kong."  So it seems clear the government wants the ESF to operate as an international school, offering priority to expats - and there is no doubt that the ESF can be successful operating in that way.

The losers here are local parents who can’t afford higher school fees, but the government doesn’t care about them.


Warped

Why is the SCMP still printing these tedious letters from Pierce Lam?  As well as attacking the ESF (yawn) he is now trying to defend the “designated schools” scheme: 

Why officials should end ESF subsidy

South China Morning Post | 2 April 2013

Simon Osborn rightly recognises that the English Schools Foundation's "old policy" discriminates against native Cantonese-speaking children but wrongly claims its new policy will offer equal opportunity ("ESF's new policy offers equal chance", March 25).

As the new policy gives priority to siblings and children of alumni, it perpetuates non-Chinese speakers' preferential admission.

Non-Chinese children of non-permanent residents now account for 30 per cent of the ESF's student population, but constitute less than 2 per cent of the city's population.

According to ESF CEO Heather Du Quesnay, the new system would not "reduce the number of non-Chinese students at ESF schools" ("ESF ends priority for non-Chinese speakers", February 5). The ESF's selling of nomination rights and questionable test on "parental commitment" won't moderate the warped effects of its old policy.

Betty Bownath is right about the importance of non-Cantonese speakers' "integration into mainstream public schools" and "full immersion with extension or support classes for Chinese being the fairest and best option for ethnic minorities" ("Segregation still confronts ethnic students", March 22). But she misunderstands The New York Times article of March 10 and wrongly criticises Hong Kong's "designated schools".

Under Hong Kong's 12-year compulsory education, every school-aged child is guaranteed a school place. But, as the city is demographically 96 per cent Cantonese-speaking, the average public school isn't well prepared for the special needs of non-Cantonese speakers. Designated schools are mainstream schools which have joined a government scheme whereby they receive additional funding for the purpose of implementing school-based measures to help non Cantonese-speaking students.

Ms Bownath has overlooked the encouraging experience of Talwinder Singh, a designated school student who features in The New York Times article. He said he was glad to be in a designated school and would feel alone in a mainstream school. He said his teachers knew how to deal with minority students. He is thinking of universities after graduation this summer from a "designated school" where he studies alongside the school's Cantonese-speaking students.

The government should cut the ESF's subsidy because of that institution's practice of segregation based on linguistic discrimination, and divert such funding to help more mainstream schools develop the capability of designated schools and serve all ethnic minorities, native English speakers included, equally.

Pierce Lam, Central

The problem with Pierce Lam is that he decided a long time ago that the ESF was a dastardly plot by the evil colonial administration and nothing could possibly convince him to change his mind.  So, even when they abolish the priority for non-Cantonese speakers (that he has been complaining about for years) he argues that nothing has changed. 

On the other hand, when the government claim that their “designated schools” scheme is a serious attempt to cater for non-Cantonese speakers, he is convinced that this must be true.  Because of course, the Hong Kong government can be trusted, unlike the wicked witch Heather Du Quesnay and the rest of them over at the ESF.

Here’s another article which comes to a similar conclusion as the one in the New York Times:

Racism in the classroom?

Time Out Hong Kong |  25 Oct 2011

Li Sing Tai Hang School in Causeway Bay, is one of 28 designated schools in Hong Kong that receive additional funds and resources from the government to help minority students. During the central allocation process, where the Education Bureau divvies up pupils according to the ‘school nets’ they are located in, most minority students end up being assigned to a designated school even if it isn’t located within their net. According to the Education Bureau, at present, among some 12,000 non-Chinese speaking students, about 60 percent are studying in designated schools.

“It’s racial segregation,” says Fermi Wong Wai-fun, executive director of Hong Kong Unison, a non-governmental organisation focusing on helping minority groups. Wong says up to 80 percent of minority students attend designated schools – but, she claims, some Hong Kong parents become unwilling to choose these schools for their children. “They [minority students] have been living and studying in a very narrow social circle and have become disconnected with the mainstream society. It will harm social integration,” says Wong.

But I have probably “misunderstood” this article, just like Betty Bownath did with the one in the New York Times, and really it is a fantastic scheme.


Pierce Lam is an idiot

As pslhk might say, I am too busy to read the SCMP myself, so thanks to Bruce for pointing out that Pierce Lam has hit back:

Make better use of subsidy given to ESF

Andrew Nunn's reply ("'Educational apartheid' hitting expats", March 1) to my letter ("ESF admission policy smacks of segregation", February 19) is premised on the allegation about local schools' reluctance to admit non-Cantonese-speaking children.

He claims that English Schools Foundation schools' preferential admission of non-Cantonese-speaking children is a remedy for native-English-speaking children sandwiched between extortionate international schools and unreceptive local schools.

However, according to the Education Bureau, it is "committed to assisting all non-Chinese-speaking students in adapting to the local education system and integrating into the community as early as possible".

In 2011/12, there were 30 "designated schools" each receiving a recurrent annual grant of HK$600,000 for the implementation of school-based measures for non-Chinese-speaking students.

If ESF schools' annual subsidy of HK$283 million is applied for this purpose, half of our local schools can be converted into "designated schools". This will be an equitable solution if the only alternative is to perpetuate Hong Kong's perverse tradition of educational apartheid.

In A Theory of Justice, the seminal work on fairness, the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls proposed that we should determine what is fair from the "original position". It's like a blindfold test where people who do not know their own ethnicities have to choose what is a fair social arrangement.

Given Hong Kong's demographic reality where there is a 98 per cent chance that one belongs to either the non-English-speaking minorities or local Cantonese-speaking populace, it will be a logical impossibility for anyone to consider preferential education for native English speakers as a fair arrangement.

Pierce Lam, Central

Is that what Andrew Nunn was advocating?  He actually said that “we should have a "one size fits all" subsidised education system - one that accommodates everyone, whether it be local Chinese, mainland Chinese, Westerners, ethnic minorities or other foreign expatriates.” 

Interestingly, there was an article about "designated schools" in the New York Times this week (I read it in the International Herald Tribune), so we have a chance to consider Pierce’s cunning plan:

Caught Between Hong Kong’s Two Systems 

HONG KONG — Talwinder Singh considers himself a “Hong Kong citizen” and a native son of the city where he was born. Though he is an Indian passport holder, he has been to India only once.  But, unlike most Hong Kongers, he goes to what is called a “designated school,” in which 95 percent of students are, like himself, from ethnic minorities, mostly with South Asian or Southeast Asian backgrounds. 

[..] The designated schools were meant to help those who fell into the gap between ethnic Chinese — who make up 94 percent of the population — and the mostly Western expatriates who can afford English-language internationals schools.

It was also after the handover that Hong Kong implemented its “mother-tongue teaching policy,” in which more than 300 secondary schools switched from English to Chinese.  Of the remaining 114 secondary schools allowed to continue teaching in English, most were expensive private schools, or elite public schools that are extremely difficult to enter. The spots for minority children were drastically reduced.

“The move was too sudden. The teachers were not well-equipped to teach these minority children,” said Tahir Nadeem Khan, an English teacher and head of community relations at the Islamic Kasim Tuet Memorial College, a designated school. “Many minority students suffered from the policy change.”

“It is racial segregation,” said Fermi Wong, executive director of Hong Kong Unison, a nongovernmental organization that helps minority groups. “Students study in narrow social circles, and they are largely disconnected from the society. Because of the poor quality of education in these schools, they end up not being able to read and write Chinese,” she said. “Their inability to learn the language affects their education opportunities and, subsequently, their employment.”

Well, I am starting to wonder if Pierce Lam knows anything about these "designated schools".  

“The reality for many of these ethnic minority children is that they come from low-income families, and they cannot afford to go to the international schools,” said Lam Woon-kwong, chairman of the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission and a former head of the Education Bureau.  Hong Kong students leaving the sixth grade have to apply to get into secondary school the next year. The system is based on exam scores, including one on Chinese language ability.

“The competition is keen because local Chinese parents desperately want their kids to get into elite schools to study English, too,” said Mr. Lam, who added that very few minority students made the cut. “It is easy to say minority students are lazy. But they are not slow learners. Many of these students are very talented. Yet no matter how good they are at English and mathematics, they often perform poorly at the primary level due to the Chinese requirement.”

In an ironic twist, ethnic minority students with poor Chinese test scores would not get into the elite schools that teach in their native English, meaning that they ended up back at the Chinese-language schools that failed them in the first place.

It was because of that problem that the designated schools were created [..] but lobbying groups, like Hong Kong Unison, have long argued that a better solution would be to allow more schools to use an alternative curriculum — with English as the first language, and Chinese as the second — and reduce the number of schools in which minority children are separated out.

“The government needs to stop the expansion of designated schools and get these students back into mainstream schools, with the condition that these schools receive effective support,” Ms. Wong said.

So, Pierce Lam’s solution is to take money away from the ESF and use it to establish more schools that provide poor quality education.  He’s an idiot.

I can scarcely be bothered to deal with his other point that “it will be a logical impossibility for anyone to consider preferential education for native English speakers“.  He’s just not listening, is he?


Pierce Lam vs. ESF (one more time)

Thanks to James for pointing out that Pierce Lam is still at it.

ESF admission policy smacks of segregation

The English Schools Foundation's intended change of its admission system is procedural and not substantive. ("ESF to end admission priority for non-Chinese speakers", February 5).

Its current admission system is designed to favour "children who do not speak Cantonese and/or read and write Chinese characters".  However, in practice, it has failed the policy objective of giving priority to non-Chinese-speakers. In the words of ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay: "It's pretty difficult to test if the child cannot speak Cantonese. We have never been able to do it. That's one of the reasons the system didn't work very well."

In order to better achieve the foundation's objective of running its schools primarily for non-Chinese-speakers, the ESF will test the children's English proficiency in stringent interviews and verify "the parents' commitment to an ESF-style English-medium education through a parental statement and interview".

Instead of bracketing Chinese-speaking applicants as auxiliary candidates to fill places not taken by non-Chinese students, ESF aims to ensure segregation more effectively by adopting a personalised approach based on subjective appraisal of applicants and their parents.  It is Ms Du Quesnay's belief that the new admission process would not reduce the number of non-Chinese students at ESF schools. In fact, it may even reduce ESF schools' Chinese enrolment.

In education, diversity means an equal opportunity to take part in different education experiences. It differs from segregation, which restricts students' education experiences according to their socio-racial backgrounds. The ESF's intended change is not meant to rectify its divisive education policy, but to strengthen its function as a bastion of colonialism that promotes segregation and perpetrates unwarranted privileges for non-Chinese and non-residents based on perverse discrimination.

The HKSAR government must withdraw from the colonial practice of offering two segregated systems of subsidised English-medium education - one for Chinese and the other for non-Chinese.  For sustainable long-term development, we must respect our local schools and demand that expatriates who wish to partake in our city's opportunities respect the system where our own children receive their education.

In Japan, if expatriates want public education, they have to send their children to local schools. It's time expatriates in Hong Kong learned to respect our local schools which, both in language standards and in the various academic measures, are generally considered superior to schools in Japan and in most of our expatriates' home countries.

Pierce Lam, Central

'Educational apartheid' driving away expat families

I refer to Pierce Lam's letter ("ESF admission policy smacks of segregation", February 19).  I agree with Mr Lam's argument about segregation in Hong Kong's education system, and would even go so far as saying that this city is currently plagued by an "educational apartheid".

I share his view that the practice of offering two segregated systems of subsidised English-medium education - one for Chinese and the other for non-Chinese - is long out of date and no longer relevant in post-colonial Hong Kong.  I wish to add that, instead, we should have a "one size fits all" subsidised education system - one that accommodates everyone, whether it be local Chinese, mainland Chinese, Westerners, ethnic minorities or other foreign expatriates.

Mr Lam insists that we must respect our local schools, and further states that in Asian countries like Japan, expatriates who want public education for their children have to send them to local schools.  He even boasts about Hong Kong's local schools supposedly being "superior" to schools in Japan and in most of our expatriates' home countries.

I would like to ask Mr Lam one question. If our local schools really are so superior to schools in other places, why are we seeing so few non-Chinese members of our society sending their children to these schools?

One answer to that I can give is that local schools are reluctant to take on non-Chinese or non-Cantonese speaking children.

On the one hand, Mr Lam criticises the English Schools Foundation for promoting educational segregation, but on the other hand, he fails to acknowledge the local schools' contribution to this dilemma. So, because of this, the choice given to the city's expatriates is loud and clear: extortionate international schools, the ESF, or leave Hong Kong.

As many of us are aware, due to limited places at international and ESF schools, many expats are left with only the third choice.  As your correspondent correctly points out, we hear about expats in other cities in the region sending their children to local schools with seemingly little trouble.

I'm sure that this is another reason why many foreigners are leaving Hong Kong, as they search elsewhere in the region for better schooling opportunities for their children.

If this city is supposedly Asia's world city, why is our "superior" education system failing to adopt a similar approach to those of other parts of the world?

Andrew Nunn, Tai Po

Then in the online comments to Andrew Nunn’s letter we have Pierce Lam trying to defend himself.  As James correctly points out, it’s where we really see his  true colours.  What he appears not to understand is that you can’t win this type of debate by insulting your opponents and blindly repeating your own arguments – you have to engage with them.

Continue reading "Pierce Lam vs. ESF (one more time)" »


Not so baffling

Big headline on the front page of the ‘City’ section of the South China Morning Post today, but it turns out to be the usual load of nonsense:

Pictures baffle Dragonair workers

Three mysterious branding-type photos are raising questions on whether the airline is moving to align its image with parent Cathay

Phila Siu and Keith Wallis | South China Morning Post | 2 March 2013

A new image may be in the works for Dragonair, judging from three photographs that appear to herald a brand relaunch.

One of the pictures shows a model standing in front of a plane with the words "Cathay Dragon" emblazoned across it. Industry insiders say the images are part of a genuine effort to sort out the future relationship between Cathay Pacific and its wholly owned subsidiary.

The pictures have been circulating among Dragonair employees. The airline said: "The photos are not from us," but would not say if it had commissioned the photography.

When Cathay Pacific bought Dragonair for HK$8.22 billion in 2006, it said it would allow Dragonair to operate under its own brand for six years. The deadline passed last year.

So Cathay is now allowed to re-brand Dragonair.  Which makes it neither baffling nor mysterious that it should be looking into the possibility of doing just that.

And it is somewhat strange that the Dragonair name is still used outside China.  For example, Cathay flies to Ho Chi Minh City, whilst Dragonair flies to Hanoi (and soon to Danang).  Dragonair flies to Bangalore whilst all other destinations in India are served by Cathay (though I think they are going to do something about that). 


That’s how it works

The South China Morning Post, of course

Cabbies now snubbing tunnel trips

There is a growing problem in Hong Kong with drivers of red taxis not being willing to cross the harbour.

I have been caught several times in Wan Chai, Tsing Yi and Mong Kok, not being able to get a taxi to take me to the other side.

Since when does a red taxi have the right to refuse to take someone across the harbour?

I have lived in Hong Kong for six years and I have noted that this problem has been getting worse in the last two years.

John Gye, Chai Wan

So… has he lived in Hong Kong for six years without discovering that there are some “cross-harbour” taxi ranks (both official and unofficial), and a few taxis driving around with an “out of service” sign to indicate that they are looking to cross back to the other side?

It’s true that some other taxi drivers will take you across the harbour if you ask, but it’s a long standing practice that most will not.  Possibly they were more willing to do so when the economy wasn’t quite so good, but that’s a general problem - if the economy’s bad it’s easier to find a taxi.

And, yes, there should be a better system for this, but generally we have an excellent taxi service at very reasonable prices.


Flawed views

He won’t give up, will he?

Former lawmaker has flawed views on local education

South China Morning Post | Tuesday, 23 October, 2012

Cheung Man-kwong, a former lawmaker experienced in politicking for "democracy" and a local teachers' union, shows his true colours in the SCMP debate on public subvention for the English Schools Foundation (October 15).

He counsels that as "we have given the ESF a lot of subsidies and land in very good locations for the building of its schools" it should "serve the people it is supposed to serve". Whom is ESF supposed to serve?  It is mandated to serve, without racial or religious discrimination, children "who are able to benefit" from "a modern liberal education through the medium of the English language".

However, Mr Cheung defies this fair statutory provision and asserts that ESF should serve preferentially "the children of foreign nationals working in Hong Kong, or non-Chinese residents". He advocates foreigners' exclusive entitlement to subsidised international education, and objects to international schools' admission of "local children who can go to [Direct Subsidy Scheme] DSS schools" which "are intended to serve locals".

He alleges that local and international schools offer different curricula to prepare students for different examinations, without explaining why they differ. In fact, local and international schools are comparable, and the results of different public exams are recognised by foreign and local universities for common admission purposes.

Local students prefer international education because the public exams taken by international schools are easier in content and grading compared with local exams. In 2008, Britain's National Recognition Information Centre rectified the unfairness and recognised that a Hong Kong C grade was equivalent to a British A. When Mr Cheung represented the education profession in the legislature, he was complicit in the injustice of making local exams unnecessarily harsh.

Does Pierce Lam really believe that if he repeats this often enough it will become true?  It’s parents who make the decisions, and they do NOT choose international schools because exams are easier.  Anyway, ESF schools use IGSCE exams rather than the oft-criticized UK GSCEs and the IB Diploma rather than A levels. 

I can’t find any published statement from Britain's National Recognition Information Centre comparing Hong Kong examinations with UK exams, but Pierce doesn’t tell us which exams are being compared - and I doubt that it is an IGCSE.   

He rails against international schools' long waiting lists, which reflect great local demand for international education, but he also incongruously asserts that "the public will be upset to see international schools built for locals".

Mr Cheung treats local students as captive customers to support local teachers' employment. He wants difficult exams to give local education the appearance of a high standard and needs stringent grading to facilitate allocation of local universities' limited places. His crony democracy renders him unable to consider measures to raise local teachers' standards. He is blind to the need for fair competition in education.

Pierce Lam, Central

Back in February the very same Pierce Lam was apparently defending local schools (it’s often hard to tell what point he is trying to make, but the SCMP sub-editor titled his missive “In defence of the local system”), yet he is now claiming that Cheung Man-kwong “wants difficult exams to give local education the appearance of a high standard.” 

I am fascinated by the concept of “fair competition in education” and look forward to hearing more about that.


Hit and Run

Some interesting discussion at Ulaca about the Lamma Ferry accident:

Ferry Accident Raises Ethical Issues

Besides the obvious safety issues raised by Monday’s collision between two ferries which resulted in at least 38 deaths, coverage of the accident has raised ethical concerns both journalistic and ferry industry-related.

To take Wednesday’s South China Morning Post’s extensive analysis of the disaster first, journalists appear to have taken a prejudiced stance in their reportage, referring twice to one vessel (in each case the Sea Smooth operated by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferries) crashing into the other (in each case the Lamma IV operated by Hongkong Electric).

A reporter called Lo Wei sets the tone on the front page with his or her piece about one of the families travelling on the Lamma IV (the Hongkong Electric boat). Lo writes “They had just settled in to enjoy the outing when a ferry crashed into their vessel.”

Then, on page 2, Alex Lo and Amy Nip get only as far as their second paragraph before they write “barely ten minutes after they had left Lamma Island, the vessel owned by Hongkong Electric would be struck by a ferry, causing its stern to sink”.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the previous day’s SCMP had carried an article headlined “38 die in Hong Kong ferry disaster”, credited to staff reporters, in which Hongkong Electric’s Director of Operations, Yuen Sui See, was quoted as saying, without proffering any evidence for his assertion, "The ferry rammed the side of our boat. They didn't bother and just left".

Read the full posting and comments over at Ulaca (link above).


EPL might cost more, or it might not

Last week the UK TV rights for the English Premier League were sold for £3 billion.  Does that affect Hong Kong viewers?  No, because the rights for other countries will be sold separately.

But here’s a stupid story in the SCMP based on the incorrect assumption that international rights are included in the UK deal, and that Cable TV and Now TV will have to  “buy the international rights from the British broadcasters”.  No, they won’t.  They will bid separately and all the money will go to the EPL.

The article is padded out with quotes from people who don’t want to pay more (well, there’s a surprise) and an accountant who prefers to pay nothing and watch the games through dodgy online streaming.  The best quote is from so-called (but unnamed) “media analysts” who think that fees might rise by “as much as 30 per cent”.  Well, yes, they might.  Thanks for giving us that insight…

English Premier League TV rights deal to hit fans

71pc increase in cost to British broadcasters, to HK$36 billion, is likely to be passed on when they sell rights overseas, meaning higher fees for HK viewers

John Carney | South China Morning Post | Jun 17, 2012

Hong Kong soccer fans can expect to pay more to watch English Premier League matches after the signing of a record-breaking £3 billion (HK$36 billion) broadcasting deal in Britain.

The league's domestic agreement with BSkyB and British Telecom is worth 71 per cent more than the current deal, and suggests local broadcasters will have to pay far more to continue carrying matches of the world's most popular soccer league.

Asian media analysts say the three-year agreement could lead to subscriber fee rises of as much as 30 per cent after providers buy the international rights from the British broadcasters. The deal begins after next season, when local Cable TV's current deal also runs out.

The news strikes soccer fans in the midst of the Euro 2012 Championship in which many EPL fans who might subscribe to Cable TV's i-Cable  are packing local sport bars to watch Now TV's exclusive broadcast of the matches.

Just last month, sport fans learned that they might not get free television broadcasts of the London Olympics as talks drag on between the sole local rights holder, Cable TV, and over-the-air broadcasters ATV and TVB.

Freelance writer Ed Mathews complained that cost of watching the EPL was already too high.  "It would be cheaper to watch your pick of the best matches now in a sports bar," Mathews said.

Teacher Sean Holmes shared the sentiment, complaining that local broadcasters use soccer to attract new viewers, but continually charge them more.  "It's also an increasingly inferior product," Holmes said. "The best footballers in the world play in Spain in La Liga. I'll be cancelling my subscription and just watching La Liga in the future."

But not everyone had a bad word to say about what soccer fans have to put up with here.  "I don't care because I already watch it via an internet feed for free anyway," accountant Francis Powell said. "So you could actually say I'm grateful for the quality that i-Cable's broadband provides."

Cable TV did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did PCCW , which runs Now TV.

Elsewhere news of the potential fee rises was met with an air of inevitability.  "I would welcome the opportunity for the general public to view the Premier League for free," tourism lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said. "But we have to realise that we're living in a commercial world and the Premier League has become huge worldwide."   But he said providers should show "social responsibility" and make sure fees remain affordable.

Toby Cooper, owner of The Globe bar in Central, said the EPL's periodic switching between i-Cable and Now TV put off home subscribers as it compelled them to switch providers. However, he believed most bar owners would accept any fee rises because the channel pays for itself.

"The Premier League is just something you have to have," Cooper said. "The price is going up because everyone wants to watch it. It's the biggest league in the world and the interest here far eclipses La Liga and Serie A. That's not going to change."