Sunday 25 September 2016

Operators set for Comreg showdown over coverage

Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30

Comreg chairman Jeremy Godfrey. Photo: Adrian Weckler.
Comreg chairman Jeremy Godfrey. Photo: Adrian Weckler.

The telecoms regulator is to meet Irish mobile phone operators this week amid growing disquiet about the patchy state of mobile coverage in rural parts of the country.

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The meeting comes after Comreg published new documents showing poor mobile reception in several parts of the country. Border counties and the west fare worst, with large areas of land scantily covered by mobile signals.

A number of Independent TDs for rural areas are understood to have raised the issue of mobile coverage in discussions with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail as part of negotiations to form a minority government.

Meanwhile, Comreg is also set to decide on whether the country's second-biggest operator, Three Ireland, can modify its mobile-phone network in a manner that rivals fear would lessen coverage commitment. Three Ireland says that a proposal to "swap" spectrum is being done as part of a "network refresh" to merge its own network with the one it inherited when it purchased O2 Ireland in 2014.

The move is being opposed by rival operator Vodafone, which says that it would allow Three to keep mobile frequencies "without any coverage commitment whatsoever".

However, Three Ireland says that the spectrum move is not being done to save money, and the proposed changes will be "minimal".

Under Comreg licensing rules, operators are only obliged to provide mobile coverage to between 70pc and 90pc of the population, most of which is concentrated in cities and large towns.

Licensing obligations are coming in for increased criticism, with Cavan-Monaghan TD Brendan Smith and Donegal TD Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher making critical comments about the system in recent weeks.

"It's a policy issue," Comreg chairman Jeremy Godfrey said recently. "[Universal service] is for the Government to decide whether or not that's a right it wants to give everybody."

Mobile operators say they cannot provide better coverage to some areas because of planning objections.

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