NTL makes digital services promise to ODTR

11 Nov 2002

Telecoms and TV firm NTL has won a reprieve from the regulator to keep its MMDS licence by guaranteeing it will have 95pc of homes in Dublin, Waterford and Galway receiving digital services by 2003.

Should NTL fail to keep this latest promise, telecoms regulator Etain Doyle has stated that she will slap a €100,000 fine on the company in the form of a bond that will become payable to the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation (ODTR) on the target date of 1 June, 2003. Doyle also warned NTL that if it fails to provide these services, consumers will be entitled to claim compensation from the companies.

As well as this, from 1 June 2003, subscribers in the affected licensed area will be entitled to a reduction of €2 in their monthly bill until the service is capable of being received. The duration of the multi-channel multi-point distribution service (MMDS) licenses in these areas is also being reduced by two years.

“While I am disappointed that NTL’s MMDS subscribers to date have not been able to enjoy digital services, these [the company’s new proposals] mean that NTL subscribers will be able to avail of digital services by 1 June, 2003. NTL indicates that it has fully committed everything needed to achieving this. If not achieved, the consumers will be entitled to NTL,” said Doyle

It is understood that the ODTR has been in discussions with NTL for two years over its failure to comply with the terms of its MMDS licenses in Dublin, Waterford and Galway. The issue came to a head in recent weeks when the regulator warned NTL that it would revoke the company’s MMDS licenses. She had given NTL until 15 October to publicly explain why its MMDS customers in Dublin, Waterford, Galway and West Mayo are still denied access to digital television services. Doyle said NTL’s failure so far is in breach of three MMDS licences it holds.

According to a statement from the ODTR, in early 2000, in an effort to ensure that consumers got full digital services, the regulator gave NTL an opportunity to review its business plan for the rollout of the services. NTL is understood to then have indicated to the ODTR that it intended to sell its MMDS business and engaged in discussions with various interested parties.

In heading off the ODTR’s threat to revoke NTL’s MMDS licences, however, the company has informed Doyle that it intends to digitise the systems itself and that the process will be completed by 1 June, 2003.

In related news, Sky Television is striving to resist attempts by the ODTR to regulate the company’s activities in the Irish market. Last March, Doyle revealed plans to make satellite services subject to the same rules that other broadcasters such as NTL and Chorus adhere to. The move would enable Doyle to regulate Sky’s distribution networks and prices, but not its content or programming. Sky is arguing that the ODTR’s plans are legally flawed under current legislation. Doyle is, however, awaiting the arrival of an EU package of directives that will come into force next July granting her the powers to intervene.

By John Kennedy