Today, it's a very different story. With 17 fixed network operators, 185 internet service providers and a 203 per cent mobile phone penetration rate, the role of the Office of Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) regulator now demands much more economics, legal and accounting skills than the existing civil service grade of telephone engineer provides.
Enter the regulatory affairs manager (RAM) - Hong Kong's first new civil service grade in a decade - and an exciting opportunity opens for qualified individuals to play a varied and leading role in the continued development of the region's communications markets.
"Right now we have a strong team of engineers," says Chaucer Leung, assistant director (support) at OFTA. "What we are lacking is those from other disciplines, such as lawyers, accountants, and economists. The purpose of the new grade is to embrace these missing disciplines."
At present, OFTA has around 30 contract posts handling non-technical regulatory work. But, according to Leung, the existing practice of hiring non-technical talent through contract staff has become unacceptable. High turnover of contract staff, restricted career development, and a need to ensure absolute impartiality - all have created a need to bring such staff into the civil service proper.
The initial RAM recruitment, with a closing date of 2 March, will be for one chief, four principals and eight seniors. Eighteen entry-level RAMs will be hired later in the year, around August or September, according to Leung.
While OFTA is opening the recruitment process, the first successful candidates will be signing their employment contracts with the newly formed Office of Communications Authority (OFCA), the communications and broadcasting super regulator, which begins life in April this year from the merger of OFTA with the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA).
According to Leung, RAM grade staff will ultimately handle competition issues from both telecoms and broadcasting. Indeed, the work of OFTA today already encompasses competition law, spectrum pricing, cross-border issues with the mainland and Macau, satellite operations, undersea cables and consumer issues. When merged with TELA as OFCA, the remit of the OFTA RAMs will include broadcasting issues such as competition among free-to-air TV channels, complaints against these networks, as well as TV channel hiring of artists.
"The recruits in this grade should be prepared to broaden themselves," says Leung. "We'll have engineers taking care of competition issues. We'll have accountants planning raids."
Leung says one of the main perks of the new grade is promotion opportunities - RAMs have a clear career path all the way to the top related post - director general of communications.
The decision whether to drop the existing telephone engineer grade has not yet been made. "There has always been a role to play in this office for those with telecoms engineering backgrounds, and [so it will be the case]," he says.
Leung says all applicants must possess telecommunications experience. He says that a stint in the business is essential. For those coming from big accounting or consulting firms, Leung would be looking for demonstrable experience in handling telecom clients.
Based in Wan Chai, the RAMs will be spread across four of the seven departments of the new OFCA. The chief RAM will likely sit in the competition affairs branch.