The long awaited Bill that will give the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) the punitive power it has until now lacked was published today by the Minister for Communications Noel Dempsey TD (pictured).
Entitled the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2007, it will grant ComReg powers similar to that of the Competition Authority.
The Bill was originally supposed to have been published in 2002. Failure to deliver it up until now is believed to be a major reason behind the evident lack of competition in Ireland’s telecoms market as well as the nation’s poor broadband infrastructure.
Once the Bill is enacted it may also eradicate the costly and time-consuming raft of court cases that were taken by operators every time ComReg tried to enforce regulatory decisions.
It will be able to investigate and take action to address issues such as abuse of dominance with civil and criminal remedies.
The Bill also allows ComReg to impose fines of up to €4m or 10pc of turnover for non-compliant behaviour.
Additional fines of up to €5,000 per day or part of a day during which the offence continues can also be imposed under the new legislation.
The Bill requires ComReg to publish an annual action plan outlining their principal planned activities and an associated budget.
In addition, the Bill includes provisions for the protection of “whistle blowers” and the transfer of Maritime Radio functions from ComReg to the Maritime Safety Directorate.
Dempsey said he believes consumers will be the biggest beneficiaries of the new legislation. “This Bill will significantly increase the powers of ComReg to promote competition in the Irish telecommunications market, thereby leading to better and more competitively priced services for consumers.
“ComReg will now be able to aggressively investigate and take swift action in cases where there has been an abuse of a dominant position. This is very good news for consumers.
“Compliant telecom operators have nothing to fear from this new legislation. However, operators who are found to have acted anti-competitively will now be aggressively pursued and will face very significant financial penalties.
“Consumers are the biggest beneficiaries of this new legislation. Ultimately, this Bill will lead to greater choice, better prices and faster service for consumers in the Irish telecommunications market,” Dempsey said.
By John Kennedy