Eir not to be compensated for phone services USO

ComReg rejects first part of multi-year claim, saying €5m cost ‘not an unfair burden’

Telecoms regulator ComReg has ruled that Eir should not be compensated for at least part of its universal service obligation (USO).

The State’s incumbent telco is seeking to have the cost of providing rural phone services, which it estimates to be about €10 million a year, shared out among all providers in the sector.

It has lodged a series of retrospective funding claims with ComReg, dating back to 2009 and totalling more than €50 million.

The regulator has, however, rejected the first of these applications relating to compensation for the 2009-2010 period, while rulings on claims for the following years are still pending.

In its decision, ComReg said it had found that the cost of the USO on Eir amounted to about €5.1 million in 2009, compared to Eir’s claim for €6.2 million.

It found that this net cost did not represent “an unfair burden” on the former semi-State.

Eir reclaims part of the connection costs via line rental charges but argues the overall costs should be shared among operators as customers can choose different service providers when connected.

It still has over €50 million in outstanding claims.

Non-Eir operators have complained about the slow pace of ComReg’s adjudications, claiming that a financial uncertainty is hanging over their accounts as a result.

Broadband

The

European Commission

is considering introducing a USO for broadband across member states as part of wider plans to revamp its digital agenda.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has already signalled his intention to consider introducing such a legal imperative here once the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which will establish a rural broadband network, is in place.

With people being pushed online for all manner of basic transactions, the lack of broadband may soon appear discriminatory.

A broadband USO is likely to overlap or supercede the current phone services obligation.

A big issue will be whether it will be funded through an industry-wide levy or via a financial obligation on the monopoly provider.

The cost of connecting the “final 5 per cent” of remote rural homes in the NBP is expected to be high, given the dire legacy of one-off housing and controversial planning.