Tuesday 24 October 2017

Eircom price increase hands its customers an open goal

Vodafone is teaming up with ESB to deliver what it says will be high broadband speeds to practically every house in Ireland
Vodafone is teaming up with ESB to deliver what it says will be high broadband speeds to practically every house in Ireland
Richard Curran

Richard Curran

Napoleon Bonaparte once said: 'Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.' He may have been talking about military foes but the same is true of business ones.

I stumbled into an example of real competition in the telecoms market place recently. It also showed how companies can make potentially costly mistakes.

As an Eircom customer with a landline and broadband bundle package, I got a letter in the post two weeks ago. Eircom was putting up my prices by between €2 and €8 per month.

As a not-so-savvy consumer, I rolled my eyes to heaven and threw it in the bin. Shortly afterwards I was contacted by Vodafone, with whom I have a mobile phone.

Vodafone asked would I be interested in switching landline and broadband to them. After telling them I was tied up in an Eircom contract, the Vodafone man told me I could get out of it without a penalty because Eircom had raised my charges.

This salient fact probably did appear somewhere on the Eircom letter but I hadn't looked that closely.

The Vodafone man quickly went through various packages, including unlimited calls to mobiles from the landline, whereas the Eircom package I had offered me only 180 minutes free per month.

Vodafone man could save me around €55 per month! Rather than jump at it, I decided to call Eircom to see if they could do better.

What started out for Eircom as a notification of a modest €2 to €8 per month price increase, (its first in four years apparently) was going to end up costing the firm a lot more than that as far as this customer goes.

Eircom couldn't match the Vodafone package for me, on a straight landline and broadband deal. It has triple and quadruple play deals which were better, but these were irrelevant in the rural area where I live. Mobile signal is rubbish from all providers and the TV deal isn't available. As a consumer, I had been handed an open goal.

The former state company was totally upfront about my rights in relation to changing provider and the fact I had a 30-day window to do so. It was equally pretty determined not to lose me as a customer.

This was real competition at work. It has been sadly lacking in the telecommunications sector, and in mobile in particular, for a long time. Vodafone is driving hard into the landline market with its quarterly customer figures growing.

Unfortunately, Vodafone could not provide me with figures for how many Eircom customers had switched over their landline or broadband in the two weeks since the former state company announced its price increases.

I doubt I was the only one. The problem with my phone bill was the fact that due to poor mobile phone signal in rural Donegal, where I live and work from home, I was using the landline to make work-related calls to mobiles. It was costing me a fortune.

Eircom suggested that I might qualify as a business customer where I could check out their business packages.

An improved deal from Eircom was then forthcoming when I spoke to their business department. What started out as a modest price increase was turning into an education in telecommunications packages and price competition.

One of the most contentious issues in rural Ireland at the moment is broadband. A TV programme recently featured a man running a business in South Kilkenny employing dozens of people, whose factory can get less than 1Mbs of broadband.

I have laboured with 2.6Mbs in this part of Donegal. Everything is relative. The Vodafone man told me his company could raise that to 3.7Mbs. I was on an "up to 3Mbs package" from Eircom and queried how Vodafone could get me higher speeds when they use the same Eircom lines.

The Eircom man said I couldn't get those speeds. The deal could be clinched on a possible extra 1.1Mbs. I am sure that for city readers of this column, some of whom can get 200Mbs, this sounds like the caveman era.

The two companies appeared to be telling two different stories about what speed could be achieved. I contacted spokespeople for both firms and got to the bottom of it.

It appears that an "up to 8Mbs" package with Eircom might yield around 3.7Mbs on my line but I would be paying more for a relatively modest speed increase.

Vodafone was saying my line profile says the line has potential for 4.8Mbs and on that basis 3.7Mbs could be delivered by them.

Studies have shown that despite improvements in broadband speeds, access to broadband in Ireland remains below the EU average.

Eircom is investing €1.2bn in its network over the next few years. This will help get better speeds in predominantly urban areas. The rural conundrum remains.

Vodafone is teaming up with ESB to deliver what it says will be high broadband speeds to practically every house in Ireland. But it won't happen for a few more years.

The Eircom/Vodafone battle for my business was full of ironies. Vodafone were the ones who got the message through to me that I could get out of my Eircom contract. But my landline bill was so high, because Vodafone doesn't provide an adequate mobile phone signal in the area.

Whether I go with Vodafone or Eircom business, I will save between €50 and €60 per month.

It is an improved outcome that might be open to a lot of Eircom customers. The 30-day window closes on February 15. Check it out.

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