Eir wants to unburden itself of rural telephone obligation

30 Aug 2016

With advances in broadband and mobile, are basic telephony services in rural Ireland out of time?

Ireland’s largest telecoms operator, Eir, has launched a legal challenge against the universal service obligation (USO) that requires it to provide rural phone services.

The operator is arguing that being saddled with the responsibility is uneconomic under its USO with ComReg in light of the advances in broadband and mobile.

According to The Irish Times, Eir will file a statement of claim with the High Court in the coming days.

Future Human

Just like with water, the Irish State guarantees every citizen a basic service in relation to telecoms, no matter where they live.

In fact, in light of the coming National Broadband Plan – for which Eir is understood to be one of three consortia shortlisted – Communications Minister Denis Naughten TD wants to make a minimum of 30Mbps broadband an “enforceable right” with a newly-revised USO.

Irish Govt wants to make universal broadband access an enforceable right

Naughten told Siliconrepublic.com in June that he aims to take advantage of upcoming changes in EU telecoms regulation to devise a new USO that will guarantee minimum broadband speeds for all citizens.

Whether or not Naughten and Eir are marching in step on this one or are acting independently, it is clear that quality broadband access effectively replaces traditional telephony with alternatives ranging from voice over IP (VoIP) services to popular consumer apps like Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

In June, Naughten said he and his department are watching closely developments in the EU, including a new draft directive on infrastructure that will ensure that all buildings in Europe will have fibre ducting.

He said at the time: “Our number one priority is to get these contracts signed next June. We need to put the infrastructure in place first. But a legal right to high-speed broadband is the outcry and it needs to be done. The difficulty is defining a USO will only apply to what everybody else has at the moment, and that average is low, and we need to set this at a level to ensure we meet existing and future requirements.

“We want to ensure people have access to broadband as a right. Having a USO is critical, just like electricity, broadband should be a right and I want it as an enforceable right.

Budgeted at between €500m and €600m, the National Broadband Plan is aimed to kick-off with contracts awarded in June 2017 and aims to guarantee a minimum of 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload speeds.

If it succeeds, the network could be a jewel in Europe’s telecoms infrastructure crown.

If it fails, the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

Rural Irish phone box image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years