Business Irish

Sunday 23 October 2016

Telcos demand faster reform as battle with Eir escalates

Irish broadband firms want policy changes on regulation by Department of Communications, writes Sarah McCabe

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

Eir’s head of wholesale: Carolan Lennon
Eir’s head of wholesale: Carolan Lennon

Rivals to telecoms giant Eir will this week increase the pressure on the former semi-state over how it allegedly abused its power to retain its position in the market.

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Members of ALTO (Alternative Operators in the Communications Market) will meet the Department of Communications this Tuesday to seek policy commitments to ensure speedier resolution of complaints in the wake of the dispute with Eir.

The meeting comes weeks after the group met ComReg in December to discuss their complaints about how they are treated by Eir. ComReg is understood to be planning a review process of the issues raised, to be concluded by the end of 2016.

ALTO - whose members are BT, ESB Telecoms, Sky, Vodafone, Three, Virgin Media, Magnet, Colt Telecom and Verizon - want a faster and more comprehensive solution to their issues.

Communications regulator ComReg notified Eir earlier this month that it found Eir had behaved contrary to non-discrimination obligations by giving its retail arm information about plans to extend fibre broadband to 300,000 homes and businesses three weeks earlier than it told wholesale customers.

Eir has said it will dispute the allegations.

"While we welcome ComReg's finding and its commitment to resolving other issues identified at Eir, we want this to happen quicker - and for the regulatory regime to be reviewed to be sure that this doesn't happen again," said ALTO chairman Ronan Lupton.

Eir's wholesale customers rely on its infrastructure to connect many of their own customers, but compete directly with Eir's retail arm. They include companies such as BT and Vodafone.

Eir is required to treat them as customers rather than competitors, and not give preferential treatment to its own retail business.

Earlier this month, ComReg formally notified Eir that it was in breach of its non-discrimination obligations because of how it shared its fibre plans. Eir has until February 5 to respond to the regulator.

It will dispute the allegation, arguing that the information shared to its retail business gave it no advantage over wholesale customers.

ComReg said it would not comment on the potential outcomes of the process until after it had received Eir's submission.

Eir also disputes other allegations of anti-competitive practices.

Its rivals claim there are a range of practices by the group which put them at a disadvantage to Eir's retail arm. Eir itself recognised some of these in an internal report published in August.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Eir's head of wholesale, Carolan Lennon, said the vast majority of problems identified had already been rectified.

The remaining issues will be cleared up by April. Most were accidental, she added.

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