ComReg to overhaul telecoms licensing regime

9 Jun 2003

Amidst a worsening stand-off with Eircom, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has revealed plans to change the conditions that communications network and service providers must meet.

The licensing changes come amidst efforts by ComReg to ready the market to meet EU directives. Under the new regime, it will no longer be necessary for operators to obtain a licence, except in cases where the scarce spectrum is used. Instead there will be a general right to provide such services subject to compliance with standardised conditions.

According to documents published by ComReg on Friday, services such as cable, MMDS and satellite should be subject to the same conditions applying to any other communications services. However, due to lack of clarity surrounding the issue, ComReg said that it will not try to regulate these services under the new framework for the time being. This means that customers of television networks will not have the same rights as customers of data or voice services.

As a counter measure, ComReg said that it would be supportive of new legislation that aims to protect the rights of television network customers and will refer to rules and regulations that exist before the EU directives come into force on 25 July.

Under the new regime, telecom and data network operators would need to receive a General Authorisation to operate. The General Authorisation sets out the standard conditions under which operators must work.

Under other features of the EU directives, special provisions will apply in cases where telecom operators with significant market power (ie the former state monopoly, in this case Eircom) in order to develop competition. These special conditions will apply in the case of operators designated with a universal service obligation, again Eircom.

Something of a Mexican standoff has ensued between ComReg and Eircom over efforts by the regulator to ensure that the telco reduces its charges to other licensed operators trying to access its network under its obligations to unbundle the local loop. On Wednesday of last week, Eircom secured a stay at the High Court, claiming in its submission that the regulator’s decision last week to force Eircom to reduce its charges would cost it tens of millions of euro in lost revenues. In newspaper reports, Eircom claimed that it was willing to suspend a €1bn investment in its network due to the ComReg directive.

By John Kennedy