Row breaks out over new DSL service
Eircom’s launch of a budget DSL service last week met with a scathing response from rival Esat BT, which accused the incumbent operator of “anti-competitive” behaviour.
Eircom said its new product was subject to regulatory approval and that it was finalising pricing of the wholesale bit-stream equivalent.
"Consultation will now take place with ComReg and the industry to introduce the new low-cost product at the earliest possible date, with a target of March 2003 at the latest," a company statement read.
It is the timing of this consultation with which Esat BT is taking issue. Esat BT maintained that Eircom should have offered it or other licensed operators a wholesale version of the service before the retail launch, something Esat BT says Eircom is obliged to do as part of its licensing terms as the incumbent operator.
Speaking with siliconrepublic.com, Una McGirr, communications manager at Esat BT, said that launch of another DSL service was good from a consumer perspective but "sucks" from an industry competitive point of view.
"It's incumbent on [Eircom] to offer a wholesale service to all the other licensed operators but it never did that," she added.
In a statement, ComReg welcomed the news of the Eircom launch, describing it as having been "brought about largely due to the development of competition in the broadband market in Ireland" but stressed that the normal regulatory procedures would apply before the product was cleared for launch.
"As the major operator in the market Eircom has obligations to provide an appropriate wholesale equivalent and to satisfy competition law," read the statement. "ComReg will be working with the industry to ensure that an appropriately priced wholesale product is in place and that all competitive aspects are examined before sanctioning the product."
To date, the take up of the Esat BT budget DSL service had been slow, which, McGirr said, suggests that at that price DSL is still too expensive for the majority of Irish consumers. She said the company wanted to offer a cheaper service but could not do so at the current wholesale rates offered by Eircom.
"We have called for a €20-a-month DSL service and a maximum connection charge of €100. It would be economic for us to provide a service at this price if we get a good wholesale price from Eircom. We can't offer a cheaper service because we don't have the economies of scale of Eircom. As far as we're concerned it's anti-competitive," she said.
Eircom's DSL rollout currently extends to 70 telephone exchanges and this will increase to approximately 110 exchanges by December 2003, according to the company. This will equate to one million telephone lines covering the Greater Dublin commuter area, provincial cities and large provincial towns. It will also cover all towns included in the Government's national spatial strategy. By September 2004 the rollout will extend to approximately 150 exchanges covering towns throughout Ireland with more than 2,000 telephone lines.
In contrast, Esat BT currently offers DSL in 40 exchanges, 30 of which are outside Dublin, but is yet to announce any further rollout plans.
By Brian Skelly