IBEC urges powers for regulator to license Telecom

 

The Telecommunications industry regulator should be given powers to license Telecom Eireann, the employers lobby group IBEC has said. It has also called on Telecom to invest in upgrading Cablelink, or sell its shareholding to someone who will do so.

IBEC has also called for licences to be issued well in advance of January 1st, 2000, when Telecom's derogation on domestic voice telephony runs out, so that alternative operators will be able to enter the market immediately.

IBEC said yesterday that there were a number of flaws in the laws governing the regulator, Ms Etain Doyle's, office. It said she should be given powers to license Telecom Eireann and effective powers to investigate breaches of licence conditions as well as impose penalties. The recommendations are contained in an IBEC report on telecommunications policy.

Last night, Esat's chief executive, Mr Sean Corkery, welcomed the report. He said the regulator did not have any direct power of enforcement over Telecom. "We would strongly urge that the licensing of Telecom Eireann be transferred to the director so that powers of enforcement are applicable to all carriers equally in the Irish telecoms market," he said.

IBEC's chairman of telecommunications services policy said IBEC believed that, far from being a leader, Ireland's position in terms of advanced telecommunications had declined relative to its competitors in recent years.

IBEC says Cablelink, which provides cable television services in Dublin and several provincial cities, could provide broadband access to residential and small business customers in the Dublin area might be viewed. "The IBEC position is to call for divestiture by Telecom Eireann of its Cablelink interests immediately in the absence of a clear development programme for such a broadband platform," it says.

Last night, a Telecom spokesman said: "We agree that Telecom should either develop Cablelink or exit and we have made clear proposals to Government in that regard. We are currently awaiting the outcome of discussions," he said.

In its report, IBEC also stresses the need for more high capacity (broadband) cabling at low prices for high-tech industries. "IBEC urges the use of EU structural funds and tax incentives to encourage investment in this capacity," it says.

The organisation also recommends that the regulator should allow access to radio frequencies in remote areas as a substitute for cabling. It also recommends that she sets "clear criteria" on prices to be charged to private companies for using the Telecom Eireann network.

This latter recommendation is a key issue between Telecom and Esat Telecom, which provides alternative services to the corporate sector. Esat has taken the issue to the EU for hearing, claiming that Telecom is charging it exorbitant rates for connecting its calls on to the Telecom network.

The report also calls for lower access charges for the Internet and tax allowances to encourage the home ownership of personal computers.

It also urges the Government to "go digital" and to take prepare for digital television.