Eircom pressured on faults and connection speeds

29 May 2008

ComReg has set new targets for Eircom under its universal service obligation (USO).

Following a consultation on proposed performance targets for the USO launched last November, ComReg issued a decision notice yesterday.

The regulator set a target that all new installation requests were to be completed within six months, and for 80pc of all requests for connections to be completed within 24 working hours or two weeks, depending on the specific nature of the request.

ComReg expressed concern that Eircom’s performance has deteriorated over the past two years in relation to the number of faults on its line and thus set specific and legally binding targets to bring fault rates down year-on-year.

For fault repairs, ComReg has set new targets stipulating that 80pc of repairs must be completed within two working days, and 95pc must be repaired by the time agreed with the customer.

Eircom objected to the instigation of these new targets during the consultation process. ComReg received nine responses to the consultation, including from the Consumers
Association of Ireland, Eircom, other telecoms operators, plus a number of private individuals.

The new targets were welcomed by Liam O’Halloran, chairman, ALTO (Alternative Licenced Telecoms Operators), who said: “It’s a positive move. ComReg has improved the existing targets that are there and introduced some new targets relating to faults that are occurring on the line.”

ComReg also published performance indicators on Eircom’s USO for the fourth quarter of 2007. The indicators show that 95.39pc of all requests by residential customers for a telephone line connection were completed within four weeks, well above the existing target of 60pc. The figure for business customers was 94.7pc.

A very small percentage of connections took over a year to complete, however.

The proportion of faults per 100 lines were at 6.3 for residential customers and 2.7 for business customers as of Q407. The fastest 80pc of repairs for residential customers took an average of 28.6 hours to be completed and 24.2 hours for business customers; the fastest 95pc took on average 65.8 hours for residential customers and 59.5 hours for business customers. These figures were an improvement on Q307.

The number of lines capable of internet speeds above 28.8Kbps remained relatively static throughout the year, with around 5.5pc of lines nationally unable to access the internet.

“We welcome the improvement in time to repair faults but the instances of faults have been of concern for quite a while,” said O’Halloran. “The new targets will certainly help.”

ComReg Commissioner, Alex Chisholm, commented: “The targets published by ComReg
today will ensure that consumers benefit from better quality fixed-line phone services. Eircom will need to provide telephone connections more quickly, to manage its network so that fewer faults occur and to repair faults promptly when they do occur.

“This will be of considerable benefit to residential and business users of the public telephone network, and indeed to the telecoms sector as a whole.”

ComReg said it was of the view that any costs to Eircom are not excessive and suggested that the current poor performance in some areas were related to past issues in not spending money on a high-quality network.

ComReg said given the efficiency and cost differences of in-situ connections, as compared to other connections, it remains of the view that a separate connection for in-situ is reasonable. It set performance target for in-situ connections stipulating 80pc of all in-situ connections must be completed within 24 hours, 99.8pc of all in-situ connections within two weeks and all in-situ connections to be completed within two months.

The performance targets for all other first time connections are that 80pc of all requests must be met within two weeks, 85pc to be met within four weeks, 90pc to be met within eight weeks of request, 95pc to be met within 13 weeks and all requests to be met within 26 weeks.

In relation to fault occurrence, ComReg said the level of fault occurrence relating to USO consumers is in excess of 21 faults per 100 lines for 2007. Although international comparisons can be difficult to make, it said this seems significantly higher than the vast majority of EU countries.

ComReg was skeptical of the amount, not disclosed, that Eircom said it spent on ensuring adequate network quality for the past few years. While Eircom argued that the costs of meeting ComReg’s proposed targets are high, ComReg said it believed the numbers presented by the incumbent operator did not include significant benefits to Eircom in terms of lower operating costs.

It pointed out that in price reviews, including the review of the cost of the local loop and the retail price cap, Eircom was fully compensated for the cost of a modern, efficient
network and therefore the network should not be generating such a high level of

ComReg proposed a final target of 12.5 faults per 100 lines with a deadline for completion of June 2012, taking consideration of the complexities involved in improving the network.

By Niall Byrne