Saturday 25 November 2017

Eir delivers €56m rural line phone bill

Eir is one of three shortlisted bidders seeking to win a State contract for the provision of broadband to remote rural areas.
Eir is one of three shortlisted bidders seeking to win a State contract for the provision of broadband to remote rural areas.

Adrian Weckler Technology Editor

Eir wants €56m for having kept rural phone lines going in recent years.

The telecoms company says that the current system, where it is expected to service rural homes and businesses with phone lines by itself, is not fair and that this universal service obligation (USO) law is leaving it substantially out of pocket.

Eir has now asked for €12m as reimbursement for operating such phone lines last year. This, the company says, would come from other operators.

This adds to the €44m it has requested as reimbursement for rural phones maintained from 2010 to 2015.

Telecoms regulator ComReg is to decide the issue with a preliminary judgement expected in coming months.

"ComReg will verify if there is a net cost, determine whether or not any such net cost constitutes an unfair burden on Eir and if so, it is necessary to establish a sharing mechanism," said a statement from ComReg.

"We are currently assessing the funding applications received from Eir for its financial years 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, and 2014/15 and are in the process of forming our preliminary views and preparing for consultation on these applications."

A spokesman for Eir said that existing universal service obligation laws have become outdated.

"You have expanded mobile coverage for voice," he said. "But there's also a big infrastructure build around broadband at the moment. We're currently building fibre to 300,000 rural homes. The USO is becoming less relevant now."

The move comes just weeks after ComReg fined Eir €3m for not repairing rural phone lines quickly enough. The watchdog is currently seeking increased powers to fine errant companies up to 10pc of annual turnover without having to go to court.

Eir is one of three shortlisted bidders seeking to win a State contract for the provision of broadband to remote rural areas.

With a stated rollout completion data of 2021, the National Broadband Plan footprint is set to connect 540,000 rural homes and businesses which are not part of any existing broadband provider's upgrade plans.

However, broadband is not covered by existing USO laws.

Irish Independent

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