Thousands of NTL customers face the cut

31 Mar 2003

Thousands of NTL Ireland cable customers who haven’t paid their bills may be cut off after the company warned that it was tightening up its credit policy in Ireland.

In a statement included in the Anglo American giant’s results for the first quarter of 2003 and last quarter of 2002, the company said it was in the process of instituting “a more rigorous credit policy that is expected to lead to the involuntary disconnection of certain customers.”

Word of the possible get-tough tactics came after the company released results showing that its overall revenues had rocketed by nearly 40pc in 2002 to £60m sterling (€87m). The company has only recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The results also showed that year on year NTL Ireland had increased fourth quarter revenues by 25pc to £15m sterling (US$24m) and earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortisation (EBIDTA) by approximately 33pc to £4m sterling (US$6m).

NTL Ireland ended the quarter with 368,000 customers. Digital TV customers grew by 9,000 to 38,000. Business sector revenues grew by approximately 59pc year on year to £3m sterling (US$5m) in the fourth quarter.

Average revenue per user (ARPU) increased 20pc year on year to £12.38 sterling (US$18.6) in the fourth quarter. The increase was principally associated with a price increase related to the cable TV market.

Cable TV churn was approximately 8.3pc in the fourth quarter, down from 13.8pc in the previous quarter.

NTL Ireland bought Cablelink for €674m in May 1999, at the time it was jointly owned by RTÉ and Eircom, and promised to invest another €350m to upgrade the network and give its customers digital TV and high-speed internet access. But it was not to be. NTL Ireland recorded a pre-tax loss of €24.3m in 2001 and it even went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Most analysts believe NTL’s Irish cable operation has been on the market for up to two years, but it is believed that no serious offers have yet to emerge.

Competition from BSkyB, which has picked up 272,000 digital subscribers in four years, is a serious threat to NTL’s valuations.

By Suzanne Byrne and Lisa Deeney