Sunday 25 February 2018

Eircom was 'Luddite' in attitude to technology

Shane Phelan, Investigative Correspondent

A SENIOR Irish regulator described the leadership of the telecommunications company Eircom as "Luddite", according to a leaked US embassy cable.

John Doherty, who was then chairman at the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) and remains a commissioner there, is said to have made the remarks during a briefing with a visiting American congressman in 2005.

According to a cable written by then US Ambassador James Kenny, Mr Doherty and Eamon Malloy, an assistant secretary at the Department of Communications, both claimed that Eircom was resisting competition and advances in technology for its own benefit.

The two officials said that Eircom, facing little competition in the late 1990s, had charged prices that were five times the EU average and had slowed broadband roll-out to favour its own dial-up system.

ComReg was seeking to force the former state company to allow "local loop unbundling" -- a process giving other operators access to its network, so they could offer services directly to consumers.

ComReg and Eircom would subsequently become locked in a series of legal and regulatory battles over local loop unbundling and a number of related issues.

Eircom denied the accusations attributed to Mr Doherty and Mr Malloy when pressed by the visiting congressman, Rick Boucher, who was in Ireland on a fact-finding mission.

Eircom's then chief executive Philip Nolan later told the congressman that complaints about lack of competition were unfounded.

According to the cable, Mr Nolan "took exception" to criticism that Eircom had stifled competition in the telecoms sector, resisted local loop unbundling and the development of broadband in Ireland.

Mr Nolan attributed Ireland's low ranking in Europe for broadband penetration to lack of consumer demand.

At the time, rival operators were also blaming Eircom for deliberately frustrating the process of unbundling.

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