ALTO calls for ComReg to be given prosecution powers

27 Jan 2006

Proposals to give the telecoms regulator increased powers don’t go far enough and should be extended to include prosecution for anti-competitive behaviour, a lobby group has urged.

ALTO, the organisation that represents alternative communications operators in Ireland, welcomed the move by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, TD to give increased powers to ComReg, as set out in proposals for an Electronic Communications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. However the group said that this authority should be extended further to empower the regulator to prosecute where necessary.

At the moment only the Competition Authority has powers to issue prosecutions under the Competition Acts, but ALTO has called on the Minister to give ComReg concurrent prosecution powers that specifically cover the electronic communication market.

“We welcome the broad thrust of the bill which gives additional powers to the regulator, but given the concentration of market share and market power in a small number of operators, we believe that the Minister needs to go one step further if ComReg is to have the power to efficiently and adequately regulate the industry,” said ALTO Chairman Tom Hickey.

“At the very minimum, ComReg must be given the powers to prosecute breaches of the regulations and levy fines, otherwise it is effectively powerless. The sector urgently needs a strong regulator which has the teeth to monitor the development of competition, intervene when necessary and take strong action against those who flout the rules for their own narrow commercial purposes,” Hickey said.

According to ALTO, major obstacles still exist to the development of a competitive telecoms market in Ireland and as a result, broadband adoption remains low. The group also pointed to ongoing difficulties with unbundling the local loop, the practice of letting competing telecoms operators offer services over the national telecoms network.

“Where one market player controls access to ‘bottleneck’ facilities such as the local loop and that market player also competes in the downstream markets, it is almost impossible to ensure that true equivalence of access is available to alternative telecom operators,” Hickey claimed. “We believe that the regulator should have the power to force changes within any undertaking whose dominant position is an inhibitor to competition,” he added.

He claimed that such a provision exists in the UK and was used last year to bring about a new regulatory arrangement between BT and the regulator Ofcom. ALTO firmly believes that such a mechanism should be included in the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.

By Gordon Smith