Monday 22 April 2019

Communications watchdog 'needs powers and staff'

ComReg 'vulnerable' as agency lacks numbers to police the sector and calls for authority to fine rogue firms

Godfrey: "We are vulnerable with the number of staff we have at the moment."
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Understaffing at communications regulator ComReg has left the authority "vulnerable", the watchdog's chairman has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Independent, Jeremy Godfrey said that the agency badly needs more powers and staff to keep rogue operators and rule-breaking service providers in check.

"We are vulnerable with the number of staff we have at the moment," said Mr Godfrey, the sole serving commissioner on ComReg. The other two ComReg commissioner roles are currently vacant.

"We're worried about what we need to do our job and we are telling them [the Government] what we think we need."

The admission comes after a number of mainstream telecom operators wrote to Communications Minister Denis Naughten warning that ComReg is critically understaffed and may be unable to effectively police the sector.

"With more resources we could do our job better and do things faster," said Mr Godfrey. "There would be less risk of delays. It's a very, very broad remit."

Mr Godfrey also said that it needs more effective powers, such as the ability to issue administrative fines, as a deterrent to operators gaming the system or dragging disciplinary proceedings out in lengthy court actions.

The authority is charged with regulating electronic communications - including telecoms and broadcasting - as well as the postal sector.

"We've been very public about ComReg's ability to enforce regulation and the powers that other regulators have," he said. "That is particularly with regard to administrative powers in non-compliance situations and where penalties can have a significant deterrent effect. That would help us do our job more effectively. It might also help us to save some resources."

Mr Godfrey also said that Eir will soon be asked to lower key rural broadband prices that are "unjustified".

"We will certainly be proposing quite substantial changes to Eir's ability to choose what the connection charge should be," he said, talking about Eir's wholesale fibre broadband being rolled out to 330,000 rural homes and businesses.

Earlier this week, Eir CEO Carolan Lennon said the company may challenge ComReg if the regulator attempts to lower the prices set for its rural wholesale broadband.

However, Mr Godfrey said that the watchdog is currently attempting to broker a long-term solution to Eir's governance issues.

"There was an audit of Eir's regulatory governance carried out with serious inadequacies found," he said. "We've been clear that those inadequacies should be remedied. We are now in discussions with Eir about proposals that they are making to improve matters and that's in the context of a possible settlement of legal actions that are ongoing at the moment.

"If those discussions are successful, then I think we'll see a very big improvement in Eir's regulatory governance quickly. And that will give all the operators in the market a very high degree of confidence that they are going to be treated fairly by Eir and that they won't be discriminated against."

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