Eir’s increasingly fractious relationship with Comreg took a new twist this week with news that the company is now suing the State in bid to block the regulator from imposing a major financial penalty on it.
In a High Court application on Wednesday, the telco claimed the regulator had overstepped its remit in seeking to impose civil sanctions on the company.
Comreg had been seeking a declaration of non-compliance against Eir for regulatory breaches dating date back to 2011.
Judge Robert Haughton found Eir had legitimate grounds in bringing its case against the State and granted a stay on the Comreg process provided Eir pursues its case swiftly.
The legal wrangle could have implications for regulator and its powers to impose sanctions and fines on firms in the telecoms sector here. It also places Eir in the legal standoff with Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, who recently engaged the firm to rollout its fibre broadband product to 300,000 rural homes previously earmarked for the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
When contacted, Comreg said it was “considering the outcome” of Wednesday’s hearing. It has 10 days to lodge an appeal against the stay. Eir declined to comment.
However, the company previously stated the issues of non-compliance, which relate to network access, had been resolved since 2015 and that it did not believe Comreg had the right to levy civil penalties “of the kind it is proposing under existing law.”
“Regrettably, Eir has no choice but to challenge the legal basis of this case and has filed its own proceedings against the relevant Minister, the Minister for Communication, Climate Change and Environment,” it said.
The company also noted the proceedings would have no bearing on its broadband commitment contract with Minister Naughten.
The latest tussle comes in the wake of a string of sanctions imposed by Comreg on Eir. In June, the regulator fined Eir €1.5 million for breaching its regulatory obligations in relation to fault repair times. This followed an even heftier fine of €3 million fine imposed at the end of last year for similar performance breaches dating back to 2015, when a series of storms knocked out phone services across rural parts of the State.
In an recent interview, Comreg chairman Gerry Fahy warned the company would be on a collision course with the regulator unless it made significant changes to its governance structure.
Eir operates here as a telecoms retailer and a wholesaler, selling space on its network to its own retail arm and rivals. In the UK, the regulator is in the process of structurally separating the incumbent telco BT from operating in a similar fashion.
Comreg is currently conducting a review of Eir’s regulatory governance model, which could in theory pave the way for greater sepation between Eir and its wholesale arm, OpenEir .