Eir Retail presence at watchdog meeting raises eyebrows

Cantillon: ComReg decision seen as akin to poacher joining gathering of gamekeepers

There is no registered company called Eir Retail, it’s simply one of the company’s brands.

The appearance of representatives from Eir Retail at a meeting last week between Irish telcos and the independent oversight body set up to ensure the former State monopoly plays by the rules, did not go down well.

One industry insider likened the decision to invite Eir’s so-called “downstream” arm as akin to inviting a poacher to a gathering of gamekeepers. Allowing them to be in the same room with rivals who have been wronged by the company was showing a red rag to a bull, the insider suggested.

Alto, which represents the likes of Vodafone, BT Ireland and Sky, expressed its concerns over Eir Retail's participation in the body's first meeting with telcos in a letter to chairman Bob Downes. It said it was "inappropriate" for the company to attend the gathering, given there are still industry concerns over whether there is proper governance to separate Eir's wholesale and retail businesses.

Last year, Eir agreed to pay €3 million to settle a High Court action brought by the regulator over a lack of proper controls between the company’s two divisions. As part of the final settlement, the independent oversight body was set up to oversee the relationship between the different units.


Regulatory erosion

There are those in the retail space who would have preferred ComReg’s High Court action to have gone all the way and establish exactly the power of the regulator. That it didn’t leaves many questions unanswered, and a fear that Eir may continue to push at the regulatory boundaries.

The retail business might claim to be independent, but as more than one observer noted, there is no registered company called Eir Retail and it’s simply one of the company’s brands.

That the only time Eir Retail representatives spoke during last week’s meeting was to defend the former State monopoly made matters worse. Allowing it to attend the meeting at all is seen in some quarters as a poor start for the independent oversight body.

Alto chairman Ronan Lupton said that following last week's meeting it remains concerned about Eir's participation at future meetings. He added that Alto will be bringing up the issue with the European Commission on its next visit to Dublin, which takes place shortly.