ComReg reviews freephone charges for payphone operators

1 Jul 2003

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has issued a consultation document that recommends allowing independent telecoms firms to benefit from payphone access charges (PAC) on 1800 numbers from October this year. Until now, only Eircom could derive revenue in this way.

A PAC is a call charge levied on calls from payphone to 1800 freephone numbers and applies to the terminating end of the call – the 1800 freephone number. The PAC provides payphone operators with revenue for 1800 freephone calls that would otherwise be carried without charge, and is designed to cover the costs incurred by the payphone operators for operation and maintenance of the payphone, as well as line rental.

Since May 2000, Eircom has been benefiting from PAC revenues because at the time there were no other payphone operators in the market. Today there are other providers such as Esat BT and Alphyra (formerly ITG). At present, the PAC is only levied on calls from Eircom payphones and not on calls from payphones operated by other providers.

In recent years the volume of 1800 freephone calls originating from payphones has grown considerably because of the popularity of prepaid calling cards that use 1800 freephone access numbers. As a result, 1800 freephone calls have become a significant proportion of traffic from many payphones. But, since these calls are free of charge to the user, the payphone provider does not get any revenue for these calls, despite what costs are incurred.

This has led to considerable demands from payphone providers for the introduction of an access levy that is charged to the subscriber of the 1800 freephone number; a right Eircom has had for the past three years.

In a statement, ComReg said that it is “committed to facilitiating the speedy implementation of the PAC for public payphone operators in the Irish market. ComReg believes that this must be implemented with the co-operation of all industry and be done in a robust way, which adheres to the existing principles of interconnection.

“A project plan for the implementation of the PAC has been agreed and its implementation will see the introduction of an interconnection product to facilitate the industry-wide charging of a PAC in October 2003,” ComReg said.

The discussion document called for the creation of a public forum amongst the various operators on the subject, to discuss the details of implementing the charge, and deciding which payphones are PAC eligible, charging transparency issues and other matters.

By John Kennedy