Industry argued axing pay-TV services under insolvency rules would be ‘draconian’

Groups said Sky and UPC subscriptions should be retained under debt deals

Sun, Aug 25, 2013, 22:04

TV and internet providers tried to persuade the Government to ensure anyone seeking deals with their banks over debt should be allowed to retain access to premium TV services and high-speed broadband.

The Insolvency Service of Ireland published detailed guidelines earlier this year on what constituted a “reasonable standard of living” for insolvent debtors seeking to write off mortgages or loans.

But new documents show industry groups tried to persuade Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, who was responsible for drawing-up the insolvency laws, that pay-TV such as Sky or UPC should form part of the guidelines for reasonable living expenses.

The guidelines, issued by the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI), state that spending on basic internet access should be no more than €4.69 a week and phone credit no more than €5 a week.

But the Telecommunications and Internet Federation – a section of employers’ group Ibec – argued in a strongly-worded letter to the Minister that axing access to pay-TV services would be “draconian” .

“Some 70 per cent of Irish households have pay-for television. Most households have landline telephones,” federation director Torlach Denihan wrote. “This alone should cause the ISI to pause and engage with the industry. It would seem draconian and arbitrary that provision for such services is excluded. These are essential basic services as indeed are broadband and mobile phones, none of which should be seen as mutually exclusive.”

Criteria requested
The group also expressed concern that the insistence in the guidelines on “basic internet access” would exclude many of its members’ services.

“Clarification is sought as to what is meant by ‘basic’ broadband. It almost certainly does not include high-speed broadband as envisaged by the Government’s national broadband plan, which has ambitious targets for access by the public of up to 30Mbs,” the letter states.
“High speed broadband will facilitate a range of public policy objectives including the uptake of public services delivered on-line. Engagement by the ISI on this is essential.”

Direct debit
In addition, the group expressed concern that banks would force customers to cancel their subscriptions on the basis that they are typically paid for by direct debit. This, the federation said, would penalise TV and internet service providers.

UPC’s chief executive Dana Strong also wrote to the Minister to argue insolvency guidelines would “disenfranchise” a section of the population by forcing them to have low-speed broadband. She also argued that pay-TV did not equate to subscription-based channels such as sports or movies.”

Mr Shatter’s officials pointed out the guidelines had been drawn up based on the work of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. Its focus groups had decided that cable, satellite and TV subscriptions were not necessary but that a Saorview set-top box was enough.