Eircom blasted over Smart cut-off

3 Oct 2006

UPDATE: Eircom’s decision to disconnect 45,000 Smart customers has been labelled a ‘disgrace’ by Fine Gael communications and natural resources spokesperson Bernard Durkan TD.

Eircom disconnected Smart’s telephony and broadband customers owing to Smart’s failure to settle outstanding debts, believed to be worth about €4m, with the incumbent. The move resulted in 45,000 Smart telephony customers, including some 16,000 broadband customers, without a basic service this morning.

“Regardless of the nature of the dispute between Eircom and Smart Telecom, it is simply outrageous that tens of thousands of innocent customers have been disconnected,” lambasted Durkan. “It makes a hollow mockery of the Government’s claims that we have a competitive telecoms market or a dynamic ICT infrastructure when such anti-consumer activity occurs.”

Durkan said a mechanism needs to be set up where Eircom is required to inform ComReg (Commission for Communications Regulation) that it is poised to disconnect an operator’s customers at least one month before doing so.

ComReg would then be required to issue a public warning that the operator’s customers are likely to suffer loss of service, thus allowing them time to make alternative arrangements with another operator, he explained.

“In the long term, it is vital that steps are taken to wrestle the network away from Eircom so that real competition can thrive and situations like the one we witnessed last night never happen again,” he added.

Magnet Networks has suggested that the Government and ComReg can learn from the US where through a legal mechanism telecoms and other utility companies are protected from creditors for a period of time while their customers can find a new service provider. This period protects the consumer and business customer against the negative impact the telecoms or utility company’s financial difficulties may have on their lives and businesses, meaning no sudden overnight disconnections.

Charlie Ardagh, director of communications, Magnet Networks, said: “The current industry setup is fundamentally flawed. It should not be the case that Irish consumers can be affected overnight. It is imperative that Minister Dempsey gives Comreg the powers to ensure that competition in the Irish telecoms market can flourish.”

Imagine managing director Brian O’Donohoe also strongly criticised the incumbent for the move. “Eircom’s decision to cut off Smart Telecom customers without warning shows an arrogant disregard for consumers,” he said. “It is clear that Eircom believes that, with its dominant position, it can act with immunity, without fear of any reaction from Comreg [Commission for Communications Regulation] or the Government.”

“This comes as no surprise as Eircom has successfully blocked competitors from entering the broadband market for over two years while other markets have experienced substantial growth and consumers have benefited from competition.

“Imagine now calls for the Minister to face up to the fact that the competitive market is failing at the expense of consumers and the economy,” O’Donohoe added.

Mindful of the old adage that one person’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, Imagine has set up a dedicated emergency service to reconnect Smart customers. Magnet also said it is currently involved in discussions with a number of bodies to ensure a smooth and speedy transition for those affected who wish to switch provider.

By Niall Byrne