Telcos resume talks on broadband blockage

27 Apr 2006

UPDATE: Smart Telecom and Magnet Networks joined BT in withdrawing from broadband discussions with Eircom and the telecoms regulator earlier this week but a meeting due yesterday aimed at resolving the impasse has not gone ahead, has learned.

The discussions broke down this week over continued frustration among the telcos at progress on providing broadband via the process of local loop unbundling. Although only BT announced publicly that it was walking away from the table, understands that all three wrote to the Commissioner for Communications Regulation (ComReg) about the situation.

According to Oisin Fanning, CEO of Smart Telecom, talks almost broke down five months ago but the other operators were persuaded to stay. However, he claimed that little progress has been made since then. Fanning alleged that there are significant delays in accessing exchanges so that alternative operators can install the equipment necessary to provide customers with broadband services.

“That’s not that unusual in incumbents; it’s just that in Ireland this has gone on and on,” Fanning said. The dramatic withdrawal from talks has prompted the Minister for Communications Noel Dempsey TD to intervene. He is believed to want a resolution within four weeks.

In addition, all parties had been due to meet on Thursday 27 April. Fanning was on record as saying he was not optimistic about the outcome of those talks. “I don’t hold out much hope,” he said.

However, a statement from Magnet Networks, released on Friday, revealed that those talks had not gone ahead as planned.

“Eircom, the regulator and the Government have not yet delivered the proposals or environment in which we can move forward in a meaningful rapid manner. We will continue to keep an open door for suggestions and we remain hopeful that the issues can be resolved,” the company said.

Speaking earlier to, Charlie Ardagh, sales and marketing director with Magnet Networks, commented: “Eircom’s response to its obligations to date have been inadequate to create the competitive market that is needed. When things aren’t happening at a satisfactory pace everyone is forced to look at alternative routes to getting things done.”

He added: “Why is [local loop unbundling] so much more complicated here than in other markets? It’s a mindset of the regulator, of the Department and of Eircom.”

Fanning claimed that the slow progress towards a fully competitive broadband market was damaging Ireland’s image abroad. “We are the laughing stock of Europe, make no doubt about it,” he said.

By Gordon Smith