These are the lines that bind, says ComReg

2 Aug 2007

Incumbent operator Eircom has been issued with a set of proposed binding performance targets by the Commission for Communications (ComReg) in a bid to stem what it describes as an increasing level of fault rates and poor installation and repair times. Eircom will be obliged to fix 80pc of faults within two days.

Under Eircom’s obligations as the universal service provider (USO) for the country, all consumers are entitled to obtain an affordable telecoms service.

The company was appointed USO in July for a four-year period.

ComReg says that under its obligations all faults on the national network are limited in number and repaired speedily.

However, while it is satisfied with some aspects, it feels line repair and installation times could be improved.

“ComReg is aware that the increasing fault rate is an issue for end-users,” explained ComReg chairman Mike Byrne. “Having considered Eircom’s performance during 2006, we are proposing that binding performance targets are now appropriate in order to maintain standards for installations and fault repairs.

“Such targets may best ensure benefits for end-users, promote greater confidence in the USO and the sector generally, and generate ancillary social benefits in terms of end-users finding it easier to access communications services,” said Byrne, calling for views from interested parties before a final decision is made on the matter.

In a paper, ComReg acknowledged that recent market developments have made meeting USO obligations tougher on Eircom such as significant growth in housing stock with 500,000 new homes built since 1997 and 80pc of all homes in Ireland with an installed Eircom phone line.

It acknowledged above-average broadband growth from 31,000 in 2003 to 602,000 today. Almost 73pc of broadband in Ireland is delivered over conventional copper lines with average entry-level packages standing between 1Mbps and 2Mbps downstream.

In terms of performance, the majority of new connections are completed within four weeks of a request being made, with 97.4pc completed in residential compared with 95.10pc in business.

However, a small number of consumers (5pc) are waiting between 26 and 52 weeks for a completion to be made.

As a result ComReg believes it is appropriate to establish statutory performance targets to permit enforcement action in the case of “persistent failure to meet performance targets”.

ComReg says over the four quarters of 2006, the number of reported faults increased dramatically.

The residential fault rate increased from 4.5 faults per 100 lines in Q1 to 6.9 faults per 100 lines by Q4.

The rate of faults reporting by businesses rose by a similar 50pc from 1.9 to 2.9 per 100 lines over the same period.

Eircom is understood to have stated that the spike in the fourth quarter was due to adverse weather conditions.

Under the new “binding” targets set by ComReg, Eircom will be obliged to repair 80pc of faults within two calendar days, 95pc within four calendar days and 100pc of fault repairs to be completed within seven calendar days.

By John Kennedy