Regulator raises prospect of forcing State to provide rural broadband even at a loss

Comreg says EU directive allows member states use a USO - legally obliging the State to provide a service even if its uneconomic to operate - to ensure broadband coverage

Telecoms regulator Comreg has raised the prospect of applying a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband to homes and premises currently not served by commercial operators or public policy interventions.

Telecoms regulator Comreg has raised the prospect of applying a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband to homes and premises currently not served by commercial operators or public policy interventions.

 

Telecoms regulator Comreg has raised the prospect of applying a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband to homes and premises currently not served by commercial operators or public policy interventions.

Under a USO, the State is obliged by law to provide a service even if they are uneconomic to operate. Telecoms firm Eir currently operates a USO for rural phone services.

Comreg chairman Garrett Blaney said there was no current legislative framework to allow for a USO that includes high-speed broadband.

However, a new EU directive, due to be transposed into national law before the end of 2020, makes provision for member states to use a USO to ensure that “adequate broadband” is available to all end-users, he told the Oireachtas Communications Committee.

“It is for member states to define ‘adequate broadband’, in the light of various criteria and in light of national conditions,” he said.

With people being pushed online for all manner of basic transactions, many see the lack of broadband is discriminatory.

Mr Blaney told the committee a USO for broadband would not be intended to replace public policy interventions, such as the National Broadband Plan (NBP), or commercial rollout.

“ It does not allow a USO to replace a public policy intervention such as the NBP, which must be carried out, in advance of the consideration of any USO being required to be put in place, as necessary,” he said.

“If a USO were implemented, there would need to be an open process to select the universal service provider or providers, so that all interested parties could be considered and market distortion is minimised,” he said.

Mr Blaney declined to comment on Eir’s recent claim that it could deliver the NBP for less than €1 billion, a third of the current cost being considered.