Watchdog seeks huge increase in telco fines
The telecoms regulator is to push for fines of up to 10pc of operators' annual turnover without going to court as it seeks to ramp up its powers of enforcement.
The move comes after it recently imposed a fine of over €3m on Eir for non-compliance with its universal service obligations.
The administrative power to issue fines of up to 10pc of a company's turnover could leave larger telecoms firms facing fines of tens of millions of euro.
"Potential fines must be sufficiently high to act as a strong deterrent," said ComReg in its newly-published Electronic Communications Strategy Statement document.
"We will continue to advocate for an increase in the maximum fine that may be imposed for criminal offences, following conviction on indictment.
"This was reduced in 2011 to a maximum fine of only €500,000, which is too low to have a significant deterrent effect in the context of the scale of many of the operators in the telecommunications sector," ComReg said.
"We consider that the previous provision for fines of up to 10pc of turnover, or €5m, whichever is the higher, would be more appropriate."
The watchdog also wants the power to administer fines without having to go through courts. "In contrast to court-imposed financial sanctions, administrative fines can be applied immediately and thus act as a greater deterrent against breaking the law," the Comreg document said.
The regulator needs this power, the document argued, because telecoms companies are sometimes deliberately breaking the rules.
"Serious breaches are sometimes deliberate and often affect large numbers of customers and end-users," the document said.
"Service providers often profit significantly, and unjustly, from breaking the law."
Comreg believes that legal restraints are preventing successful enforcement.
"Comreg is often hampered by the limits of the regime within which it operates," said its strategy statement. "Improvements to its enforcement powers (both criminal and civil) would facilitate ComReg in maximising its limited resources."
The push for greater powers comes as Comreg seeks to navigate a mobile roaming fees row that could see Irish operators try to skirt new EU rules that promise abolition.