Smart slams Eircom over single billing


19 Aug 2004

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Smart Telecom has slammed Eircom’s implementation of wholesale line rental (WLR) claiming that the incumbent operator is too slow to convert customers to single billing, resulting in a backlog of customers waiting to make the move.

Although deregulation of the telecoms market began in 1998, it is only since last April that other licensed operators (OLOs) have been able to transfer customers to a single billing under Carrier Pre-Select (CPS) whereby they buy wholesale lines for a rental fee of €21.18, leaving room for a margin of 10pc compared to standard line rental fee of €24.15. The advantage for consumers and OLOs alike is that customers no longer have to receive two separate phone bills for line rental and calls respectively as the OLO can merge all the information onto a single bill.

According to sources, after a period of 18 months the Commission for Communications (ComReg) and OLOs will push to have this increased to a 25pc margin, bringing line rental in line with the European average of €15, and room for OLOs to offer more competitive rates to Irish consumers. Eircom, no doubt, will battle this.

ComReg presided over the creation of a single billing database that automates the transfer of a customer from an Eircom bill to a bill from OLOs like Esat BT, Smart Telecom or Access Telecom. The system, which takes into account services like call barring and forwarding of voice mail, is only the second such system to be launched in Europe after Denmark. When Eircom agrees to transfer customers to another telco’s service, it must sign a strict service level agreement (SLA).

However, Smart Telecom’s Oisin Fanning has alleged that Eircom is slow to transfer Smart’s customers to single billing and its faults and technical support service is insufficient.

“We’ve been using the single billing system for three months and I have to tell you that it is definitely not going to change the landscape. The so-called seamlessly automated wholesale line rental system doesn’t work. Out of 30,000 Smart Telecom customers who have requested to be switched less than 6,000 have managed to switch. It’s a disgrace. Eircom are not managing to convert customers even on a daily basis, it is only a meant to be a slight database change. Esat BT, which is planning to introduce its single billing service next month, will have its heart broken.”

According to Fanning, Smart Telecom’s introduction of single billing has been dogged by technical and administrative incompetence at Eircom.

“We’ve had a customer whose line went dead on 23 July. We were only notified by Eircom on 29 July that they had found a fault and the problem wasn’t fixed until 11 August. As well as this we’ve had billing files sent to us in the wrong format which delays the posting of bills to customers. I would say it is 20pc deliberate and 80pc pure incompetence,” Fanning said.

A document belonging to Smart Telecom, seen by siliconrepublic.com, alleges that Eircom has also failed to furnish the company with performance metrics, which Smart says is a clear breach of the CPS single billing service level agreement.

Fanning told siliconrepublic.com that his company is considering taking out an ad campaign to vent its grievances. “The 10pc margin barely covers our costs. If customers don’t get a bill it doubles the credit risk for us. There are cost penalties under the SLA and we’re putting together a nice bill for Eircom.”

However, contrary to Fanning’s experiences, other telephone companies claim that Eircom’s handling of single billing so far has been exemplary. “We are quite positive about it. What ComReg and Communications Minister Dermot Ahern TD have done is unprecedented. We’ve been testing the product for the past year and are ready. The first bills to customers will be posted on 24 September,” said Esat BT product director, Peter Evans.

Brian O’Donohoe, whose firm Access Telecom has brokered ground-breaking telecom deals with organisations like GAA and ISME through CPS and single billing, said: “”I have to admit that I’ve found Eircom to be quite helpful in terms of single billing. We have spent a lot of time working on electronic interfaces with Eircom’s system and completed that process in July. Since then we have transferred over 1,000 of our business customers. It has been a smooth process. In terms of execution, we’ve worked hard with Eircom and they’ve worked hard with us too.”

Eircom commercial director David McRedmond defended his company’s service, saying: “I think we’re prepared, it’s our product and we’ve launched it. We are the ones who know it better than anybody. We are at the cutting edge of European telecoms in relation to how liberalized the Irish market is. Apart from Denmark there is very little precedent and it is difficult to calculate volumes and level of take-up. In that context, all of us are entering the unknown. But we have ensured good product availability and we wouldn’t have introduced it if it didn’t work.”

By John Kennedy