Eir investigated over discriminatory practices

ComReg says review could prompt separation of its wholesale and retail divisions

Four of Eir’s main rivals – Sky, BT, Vodafone and Magnet – have separately initiated dispute proceedings against the company with Comreg

Telecoms company Eir is being investigated by the regulator after admitting to discriminatory practices against rival operators sharing its network.

ComReg said a review of Eir’s regulatory compliance, launched this week, could ultimately lead to the separation of its wholesale and retail divisions.

Access to Eir’s broadband and fixed-line network remains a contentious issue amid allegations the incumbent telco favours its own retail arm over rival operators that purchase access to the network.

Four of Eir's main rivals – Sky, BT, Vodafone and Magnet – have separately initiated dispute proceedings against the company with Comreg, alleging its fault repair times were below European industry norms.

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The four chief executives of these companies are due to meet Comreg officials on Monday to address the issue of regulation in the Irish telecommunications market.

21 areas

An in-house report by Eir (formerly Eircom), published in August, detailed a list of 21 areas where the company was failing to provide equal access to non-Eir companies.

Eir has promised to remedy the problems and to publish regulatory compliance reports on an annual basis.

Nonetheless, ComReg has announced a review of Eir’s regulatory governance model on foot of the report.

The regulator said it was particularly concerned at the “long lead times” – the time it takes to hook up new customers – experienced by alternative operators.

“It is not yet clear to us that Eir’s internal governance arrangements are sufficiently robust to serve the needs of industry, and ultimately end users,” it said.

Comreg also noted its review, expected to be completed before the end of 2016, could open talks on the “functional separation” of Eir’s wholesale and retail divisions.

In the electricity sector, the ESB was forced to separate it retail business from its grid operations to ensure fair competition for rival suppliers.

Welcomed review

In a statement, Eir said it welcomed ComReg’s decision to conduct a review.

“We are confident that the compliance regime that we have in place is fit for purpose and allows our global competitors to continue to benefit from our significant capital investment on a non-discriminatory basis,” a spokesman said.

“Three years ago, Eir informed industry and ComReg of a programme of reforms for our model of wholesale regulatory governance,” he said, noting the company had already implemented a number of initiatives and reforms around compliance, transparency and non-discrimination.

Ronan Lupton of the Alternative Operators in the Communications Market group, which represents non-Eir operators, raised concerns about the proposed length of Comreg's review.

"It appears that Comreg may have a resource issue in terms of wholesale compliance," he said, calling on Minister for Communications Alex White to address the issue.

Eir’s dominant position in the telecommunications market is likely to be a focus of the Government’s National Broadband Plan, more details of which will be announced next week at the start of the formal tendering process.

The Government is likely to stump up half the cost of bringing high-speed broadband to rural Ireland in some form of public-private partnership.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times