BT’s gamekeeper-turned-poacher stance hard for Eir to take

ComReg currently adjudicating in row between former British and Irish state telcos

ComReg’s review of Eir, which has been outsourced to consultants, was prompted by complaints that it was abusing its dominant position

ComReg’s review of Eir, which has been outsourced to consultants, was prompted by complaints that it was abusing its dominant position

 

Eir, Ireland’s incumbent telco, must look upon the move to legally and structurally separate BT in Britain from its infrastructural arm Openreach with a mixture of Schadenfreude and fear.

For several years, BT, which also operates here, has taken part in a ritual bashing of Eir for alleged discriminatory practices against rivals, even though it occupies the same position as Eir in the UK, essentially that of former state monopoly.

The British company is currently in a dispute with Eir over the latter’s fault repair times. The dispute, which is being adjudicated by Irish regulator ComReg, is likely to end up in the High Court.

It is safe to say that BT’s gamekeeper-turned-poacher stance in Ireland has been difficult to swallow for Eir. So it must be satisfying for the Irish telco to watch its UK cousin squirm on the regulator’s hook.

However, this satisfaction must also be tinged with a certain amount of anxiety about its own position.

Eir, the telecoms retailer and wholesaler, the broadband provider and infrastructural monopoly, still operates as one unified company, an anachronism that may soon unravel.

In the UK, BT had been functionally separated from its infrastructural arm before yesterday’s announcement; now it will be structurally separated, comparable to the way things have gone in electricity market.

Under the UK regulator’s plan, BT’s Openreach will become a distinct company with its own staff, management and strategy “to serve all of its customers equally”.

The regulator had threatened to force BT to separate for competition reasons until the company bowed to pressure. It’s impossible to imagine Eir won’t come under the same pressure here.

ComReg is currently conducting a review of Eir’s regulatory governance model, which could in theory pave the way for Eir to functionally separate from its wholesale arm OpenEir but structural separation is not on the cards for reasons that only ComReg knows.

Access to Eir’s network has become a contentious issue amid allegations the company favours its own retail arm over rivals.

ComReg’s review, which has been outsourced to consultants, was prompted by complaints that Eir was abusing its dominant position.

For now anyway, Eir enjoys something of a gilded position in the telecoms cage.

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