ComReg under fire for failing to rule on Eir’s €50m USO claim

Regulator still to determine if Eir should shoulder all the cost of rural phone services

Telecoms regulator ComReg has come under fire for failing to rule on whether Eir should be compensated for its universal service obligation (USO).

The company wants the cost of providing rural phone services, which it estimates to be about €10 million a year, shared among providers.

In 2014, it lodged a series of retrospective funding claims, dating back to 2010 and totalling €50 million, with ComReg.

However, the regulator has still not determined whether the USO constitutes an unfair financial burden on the former semi-State company and if rivals should shoulder some of the cost.

Non-Eir operators claim ComReg’s failure to adjudicate leaves an uncertainty hanging over the industry and their operating costs.

Ronan Lupton of Alto, the umbrella group for non-Eir firms, said: "It's extremely disappointing, although not surprising, that ComReg is yet again failing to make any headway on the funding/sharing mechanism, or a declaration of unfair or fair burden on Eir."

“Industry is very upset at this inaction on ComReg’s part. It creates an intractable position for operators having to accrue, where possible, for retrospective claims. This leaves the market with continued uncertainty as to operating costs coupled with general accounting uncertainty,” he said.

ComReg said it was assessing the funding applications received from Eir. “Following a period of clarifications regarding the applications we will proceed to form our preliminary views on these applications and consult accordingly,” a spokesman said.

Eir recoups part of the connection costs via line rental charges but insists the the overall costs should be more evenly shared, particularly when customers can opt for different service providers once connected.

A spokesman said: “We’re following the process. We’re entitled to make the submission. Our costings are in line with the guidelines that are provided by the EU and ComReg.”

A previous claim by Eir, dating from the period before 2010, was refused by ComReg, albeit no principle was established.

The dispute over USO costs could yet be overtaken by the Government’s rural broadband scheme.

The National Broadband Plan (NBP) is, in effect, a USO for broadband in that it will compel the winner bidders to hook up rural homes to a new telecoms network.

Eir’s retrospective funding claims for USO:

2010 – €9.95 million

2011 – €7.26 million

2012 – €7.95 million

2013 – €11.3 million

2014 – €11.3 million