621 of Eir’s public payphones could be removed under current rules
Communications regulator proposes keeping usage thresholds at one minute per day
Eir is permitted to remove a payphone unit if the average usage over a period of six months falls below less that one minute a day.
The majority of Ireland’s remaining public payphones are not protected under Eir’s universal service obligations and could disappear under the current rules.
This is because their usage falls below the thresholds at which Eir is required to keep them.
At the end of 2015, there were some 900 public payphones remaining in Ireland, but 621 were being used for less than a minute per day on average, with less than 30 seconds of this usage relating to freephone and emergency services calls.
Eir is permitted to remove a payphone unit if the average usage over a period of six months falls below these thresholds.
The telecoms group has told the communications watchdog ComReg that it has no plans to remove the identified payphones on the basis of their low usage “at this present time”.
However, it is no longer obliged to maintain up to 71 per cent of Ireland’s remaining payphones.
“If Eir chooses to remove these public payphones, there would be some counties which would no longer have public payphones,” ComReg notes in a new review.
Counties where all or almost all of the payphones are not used for more than the one-minute daily threshold include Meath, Offaly, Carlow, Cavan, Leitrim and Longford.
The tally of remaining payphones is already down more than 30 per cent on the 1,300 units that existed in July 2014. This in turn followed a major rationalisation project in 2009, which saw their number drop from 3,500 to about 1,500.
On average, less than one call a day was made from public payphones between August 2014 and December 2015. Payphone calls to emergency services accounted for an average of less than one call per month in this period.
Eir may also decommission payphones if there is evidence of anti-social behaviour at the kiosk site or if it is requested to do so by a local authority.
ComReg said payphones were used by people who have no landline or mobile phone – “the most vulnerable in society”. They may also be used by people who cannot make use of their mobiles at a particular moment.
“Privacy reasons” are another typical reason for using a payphone. In most months, freephone numbers account for more than half of payphone calls, while a 2013 study suggested about a quarter of the freephone calls made from payphones are to helplines, suggesting the calls may be of a sensitive nature.
ComReg has proposed that no change should be made to the thresholds for removal between now and 2018, which marks the expiry of Eir’s current four-year designation as the universal service provider for public payphones.
Increasing the threshold to two minutes would pave the way for the removal of 80 per cent of payphones, while dropping it to 45 seconds would see 62 per cent eligible for decommissioning. It has opened the matter out to consultation until June 24th.
“Where average usage of the public payphone is extremely low, ie less than 30 seconds per day, we are proposing that it can be removed, regardless of what types of call the public payphone has been used to make,” the regulator said.
But it said it could not “require the removal” of public payphones. “This is a commercial decision for Eir to make.”
In some instances, Eir’s payphone kiosks have been used for other purposes such as advertising.