ComReg clarifies net facts in connection clash

8 Oct 2004

A dispute has broken out between the communications lobby group IrelandOffline and the Commission for Communications Regulation over the issue of functional internet access (FIA), an obligation on telecoms suppliers to ensure a minimum internet speed on all phone lines.

IrelandOffline had claimed that the regulator had removed a minimum level of quality on FIA last year and alleged that telecoms providers were no longer obliged to guarantee to consumers that phone lines were capable of carrying internet traffic. “When FIA was removed from the universal service obligation (USO) it was a massive step backwards,” IrelandOffline chairman Damien Mulley said.

However ComReg said that FIA had not been withdrawn and that the 2003 regulations contained a USO around providing internet access. Quoting from the document, ComReg replied: “Any connection (to the public telephone network) provided by a designated undertaking shall be capable of allowing end users to make and receive (c) data communications at data rates that are sufficient to permit functional internet access taking into account prevailing technologies used by the majority of subscribers and technological feasibility.”

The regulator acknowledged that the USO decision last year did not define a particular data rate to represent FIA but nonetheless it required Eircom to engage with ComReg and develop a plan for addressing network performance issues that could affect the line speeds experienced by internet users.

According to ComReg, the EU directive that broadly defines the scope of USO – and on which the national regulations are based – did not, unlike the previous 1997 directive, define the data rate. This had been set at 2.4Kbps – but it was referred to at that time under the broad heading of “data communications”.

IrelandOffline had claimed to have heard “widespread” complaints from Irish internet users that their connections were too slow to be workable or unable to carry an internet signal at all. ComReg said that it had received 50 complaints to its own office in relation to FIA.

ComReg confirmed to that it has been in discussion with Eircom on this issue and other areas concerning the details of the USO requirement. The regulator said it expects the process to conclude shortly and added that it would be emphasising that increasing broadband availability would be the main priority in these discussions.

By Gordon Smith