independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Number could be up for nation's public payphones

Eircom is obliged to provide a public payphone service.

THREE counties now have as few as 10 public payphones left following a steady decline in payphone facilities across the country.

Documents recently released by telecoms regulator, ComReg, said Carlow, Monaghan and Longford now have 10 or fewer public payphones.

While Dublin still has about 400, or 30pc of the total, the figures showed the majority of counties are surviving with an average of 27 payphones each.

Their numbers have been slashed by three-quarters since 2006 and the total in operation now stands at just 1,329.

Despite this cull, operator Eircom said the vast majority are still "economically unviable".

However, because of its dominant market share, Eircom is under orders to provide a national payphone service as part of the same "universal service obligation" that requires An Post to deliver letters to hard-to-reach parts of the country.

The telecoms provider said it is unable to make a profit from 1,213 of the 1,329 payphones and it is costing nearly €100,000 a year to run the service.

ComReg is currently weighing up a new system that could potentially do away with Eircom's obligation to provide payphones.

But nothing is likely to change in the short term. ComReg is "of the preliminary view" that removing Eircom's duty to provide the service is not appropriate "at this time".

Payphones, it said, still provide a "vital service", particularly to society's most vulnerable.

Irish people, it found, use payphones mainly because they need privacy, rather than having no alternative. A large proportion use the phones to call helplines.

"Payphones provide a vital service to those vulnerable in society," said the regulator.

DISASTER

They also provide an important contact point for emergency services. An average of 1,800 calls a month were made to emergency service providers from payphones in the first six months of 2013.

And payphones provide a lifeline in the event of a natural disaster. "Payphones often use different energy sources so after natural disasters, for example, they may still be in working order," said the regulator.

Despite this, the regulator is not planning to increase the numbers available -- it says the current amount "meet (if not exceed) the reasonable needs of consumers".

Irish Independent

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