Eircom’s decision earlier this week to appeal directions on local loop unbundling (LLU) has been described as “vexatious”, “without foundation” and “frustrating” by two lobby groups campaigning for better broadband services.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators (ALTO) said it strongly supported action taken by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in directing Eircom to co-operate with efforts to speed up LLU. Earlier this week, Eircom revealed that it plans to appeal the directions through existing ComReg appeal mechanisms.
Yesterday, however, ComReg threatened Eircom with legal action in the High Court and possible financial penalties over the failure to comply with its directive on LLU. The regulator has given Eircom until 11am this Friday to respond. Describing the action as “essential, measured and proportionate”, ComReg chairwoman Isolde Goggin said that it cannot allow Eircom to delay developments that are affecting the ability of other operators to offer increased choice to consumers through innovative broadband offerings and strategies.
ALTO chairman Iarla Flynn criticised Eircom’s decision to appeal ComReg’s directions as “just a further disgraceful example of one company’s efforts to block greater choice and value for consumers”.
He continued: “Late last year ALTO members worked with ComReg to produce an industry set of requirements for developing LLU. These requests are aimed at improving the efficiency of the LLU service so as to allow a greater volume of customers be activated for broadband services. Given that Ireland is amongst the worst in the EU for broadband take-up and that less than 2,000 lines have been unbundled, it is imperative that these innovations be implemented as soon as possible.
“ALTO members have committed millions [of euros] in investment to LLU already and will invest further as this service becomes more efficient. A more streamlined LLU service would allow competitors to innovate within the market and beat Eircom on both quality of service and price.
“Eircom is running scared and have resorted to its standard delaying tactics to try to hold on to its market monopoly,” Flynn said, adding that Eircom’s appeal was “vexatious” and without foundation and should not be entertained.
Another lobby group that throughout 2004 solidly campaigned for accelerated broadband for Irish citizens is Ireland Offline, which described Eircom’s decision to appeal a ComReg direction as frustrating. Spokesman John Timmons stated: “Eircom’s recent actions speak louder than its shallow words. While it continues to spread the myth that Eircom wants to bring broadband to everyone, its application to the Electronics Communications Appeals Panel shows what it really wants is to preserve its monopoly and do as much damage to potential competition as possible while price gouging the consumer.”
Timmons added that Eircom’s appeal means that the ComReg ruling could be delayed by a number of months, with the possibility of a protracted High Court case if the appeals panel doesn’t rule in Eircom’s favour. “This delay will further confuse and delay the roll out of broadband, which is already more than three years behind the rest of the EU and is increasingly becoming a factor for investors to look at other countries in which to set up business.”
IrelandOffline spokesman Aidan Whyte added: “This is the latest amongst a very long line of delaying tactics by Eircom and is a major disservice to the consumers and taxpayers who funded and have paid many times over for the network that Eircom now refuses to open up to competition. For Eircom to continue to place obstacles in front of other operators trying to roll out broadband is totally unacceptable.”
In a sign of support for the regulator, Timmons added: “We are confident that ComReg has the intelligence and foresight, when implementing new regulations, to ensure that they are wholly workable within the current legislative framework. We are further confident that the justice system will give short shrift to these blatant delaying tactics and allow Ireland to continue to catch up with the rest of the developed world.”
Despite claiming prowess as one of the largest software producers in the world and boasting the presence of major technology leaders such as Intel and IBM, Ireland has gained a reputation as having one of the lowest broadband penetration levels in the developed world.
The average DSL connection of 512Kbps in Ireland compares harshly with the doubling of standard DSL services in the UK by BT to 2Mbps, 3Mbps or 4Mbps services in Germany and the suggestion of 15Mbps services in France.
By John Kennedy