Telecommunications companies have expressed anger and frustration at the failure by ComReg and Eircom to implement carrier pre-select (CPS) single billing by the promised deadline of 2 June. The Alternative Licence Telecom Operators (ALTO) lobby group said it would not be surprised if the deadline slipped further into next year.
Along with local loop unbundling, carrier pre-select and single billing are seen by telcos as one of the major hurdles they face when trying to get customers to sign up for their services. The advent of single billing will enable other licensed operators (OLOs) to charge for their services on one bill, instead of the present situation whereby customers receive an additional bill from Eircom for line rental on top of the services from a rival operator. Single billing would allow an OLO to integrate line rental into the one bill.
In May, the Commissioner for Communications Regulation (ComReg) issued a statement saying that two single billing products (through wholesale line rental and through agency rebilling) would be launched on 2 June following the completion of testing a system that would enable Eircom to allow OLOs to sign up new customers to single billing. At that stage the single billing products were a full five months behind schedule, with earlier launches postponed in January and in April.
According to both Esat BT and ALTO, it appears that Eircom has yet to submit the terms and conditions for a commercial arrangement for single billing to exist between the incumbent and OLOs, a document that would also have to be vetted by ComReg.
“This is very frustrating,” said Iarla O’Flynn, chairman of ALTO. “Even if launched, the service offered by Eircom would be a limited one because the computers and equipment needed to enable universal single billing may not be in place until September this year. Even that is not concrete. The system would be a manual one until that time. Given the present rate of progress, OLOs I have spoken to say they would not be surprised if the deadline slipped further into next year.”
He continued: “This is an unacceptable situation. It seems Eircom’s whole strategy is to hold on to its monopoly position. It is holding off CPS and at the same time has hiked up line rental twice in the last few months, bringing an additional €50m into its coffers. Consumers face a double-whammy – they don’t have a proper choice for services and at the same time are facing price rises from Eircom. OLOs have said that the whole project is causing frustration and disillusionment, five years into deregulation.”
A spokesperson for Esat BT confirmed the growing frustration. “Until single billing comes into place, Eircom still have a monopoly position. We have been told that by September a single billing infrastructure that would be fully automated and transitioned would be in place. It looks very unlikely the way things are going. It is very difficult for us to attract customers when we have to send them one bill and Eircom bills them for line rental.
“It would be a very big day for us when we can own a customer end-to-end,” the spokesperson continued. “It will mean that a major wall will have come down and we can bill the customer ourselves for line rental. It will mean we can offer better prices. Eircom’s strategy is stone age and not in the best interests of competition.”
The Esat BT spokesperson also hinted at aggressive customer win-back strategies being employed by Eircom. “When a customer wants to switch phone services, once we notify Eircom about the transfer, within 24 hours Eircom are posting out letters from their marketing department and contacting our customers. Customers we have signed up end up returning to Eircom. It is ferociously aggressive. For every 3,000 new customers we sign up, we lose 2,000 on churn. It will be very hard going for a licensed operator until single billing is put in place,” the spokesperson told siliconrepublic.com.
Neither ComReg or Eircom could be contacted for comment at the time of going to press.
By John Kennedy