ComReg opposes council plan to cut road works

 

The Commission for Communications Regulation is opposing new regulations proposed by Dublin City Council that would reduce the amount of road works undertaken by telecoms firms.

A lobby group representing the telecommunications industry is also strongly objecting to the regulations, which have already been delayed for 18 months due to concerns voiced by operators.

Dublin City Council's proposed regulations would give the local authority the power to refuse firms the right to dig up roads. It would also substantially increase the fees which Dublin City Council can charge operators to dig up streets in the city.

In a controversial decision, the council has also ranked utility services in the order of priority with which they should be given access to the space under roads.

The new ranking places telecoms operators at the bottom of a list of utilities, which includes electricity, gas, water and Dublin City Council traffic services.

The regulations, which were published recently as part of a public consultation process, say the ranking reflects the potential public health and development impacts of the non-availability of service and the fact that in all cases, except telecoms, there is a single distribution network.

But in a response to the consultation published on its website at the weekend, the Commission for Communications Regulation, (ComReg) says it is concerned that the proposed rankings provided by Dublin City Council placed telecoms services at the bottom of the list.

The response says ComReg does not accept that telecommunications should be assigned a lower priority than gas or electricity, given the priority assigned to telecommunications in the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and the National Spacial Strategy.

IBEC's telecommunications and internet federation (TIF) is also strongly opposed to the regulations and has requested a two week delay to the consultation process to prepare its position.

Mr Tommy McCabe, director of TIF, said yesterday certain charges for damage caused to roads by operators were increasing by 200 per cent under the regulations. These were "unjustified" and would make it far more difficult for firms to lay new telecoms infrastructure.

Mr McCabe said the new regulations did not follow Government policy which strongly encouraged new infrastructure. It could also be anti-competitive because many local authorities were planning to lay their own telecoms infrastructure as part of the Government's new 19 town broadband strategy, he said.

Mr Tim O'Sullivan, executive manager at Dublin City Council's Office of the Director of Traffic Control, said it was necessary to bring some new regulation of the road space to reduce road works.

He said the council had been in discussions with industry for up to two years on the issue and the regulations should limit disruption for the travelling public.

Mr O'Sullivan said he hoped the regulations would come into force before the end of the year following the consultation.

Up to 12 operators are currently engaged in road digging in Dublin, although the amount of road works relating to telecoms operators has fallen considerably in the past three years, according to new figures from the council.

The number of road openings by the four main telecoms operators - Eircom, NTL, Esat BT and Colt - in Dublin City Council's area fell to 1,134 in the year to the end of July 2003, down from 2,534 in the year to the end of July 2001.