Eircom 'expensive and unreliable', says EU report


THE GOVERNMENT is being urged to consider renationalising Eircom after an EU report described key services of the former State company as “expensive and unreliable” .

While the EU Commission report found mobile charges in Ireland were falling, it said comparisons with other EU states showed fixed-line subscribers were still suffering from poor competition and high prices – Eircom’s landline charge of €25 per month is the highest in the EU.

Eircom’s wholesale services were criticised, and access for competitors to the network was called “expensive and unreliable”.

There was also bad news on the roll-out of broadband, with overall fixed broadband (DSL) coverage in rural areas at just 73 per cent last year, 16 percentage points behind the figure for overall national coverage.

Ireland did fare well on mobile call charges, with the cost of a mobile phone call in Ireland, at €0.11 per minute, being cheaper than the EU average of €0.23. Ireland also fared well on the ability of customers to switch between mobile operators, with the process taking just one day against the EU average of 8.5 days and 38 days in Poland.

Ronan Lupton, chairman of the industry group Alto (Alternative Operators in the Communications Market), said the Government should consider renationalising Eircom or investing in the national phone network. “This situation is unsustainable and the Government must act now.”

Dublin Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa said ComReg, the Irish telecommunications regulator,should launch an “immediate investigation” into the cost of line rentals. Renting a residential line from Eircom was 66 per cent more expensive than the EU average of €15 a month.

However, Eircom spokesman Paul Bradley said the costs of running the Irish network, which served dispersed populations, were higher than other EU countries, and so costs to competitors were higher.

He said a more revealing assessment of charges would take into account call charges from landlines as well as line-rental charges. A combination of these would show Ireland was much cheaper for residential and business calls than many other EU countries – something he said was backed up by ComReg’s latest report.

Further calls were made at an Oireachtas committee yesterday for the Government to consider renationalising Eircom in a bid to improve broadband coverage.

Irish Rural Link (IRL), which represents more than 300 community groups in Ireland, said Eircom was so burdened with debt from its parent company that it was incapable of making the investment needed. IRL chief executive Seamus Boland told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that, without investment, many areas of rural Ireland would be “condemned to the digital Dark Ages for a generation”.

Fine Gael communications spokesman Simon Coveney said: “I believe that Eircom should be taken over in some shape or form.”