ComReg to respond to USO submissions shortly

28 Feb 2003

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has received submissions from a number of telecoms operators in response to its invitation just before Christmas for feedback on its review of the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The review was necessitated following the adoption of a new regulatory framework in February of last year by the Council of the EU for the provision of electronic communication throughout the internal market.

This new framework consists of a package of directives which reflect technological and economic changes and which attempt to further harmonise the regulation of electronic communication throughout the union.

Currently the USO means a designated operator must ensure that “any request by a person for connection to the fixed public telephone network at a fixed location an access to fixed public telephone services, is met.”

Because of its monopoly position, Eircom was designated the USO in Ireland in 1999 in respect of its share of the fixed telephone and network service markets. In Britain BT has this responsibility. These obligations apply to the whole of the State for an unspecified period.

Under the new framework all member states of the union are obliged to adapt national legislation implementing the new telecoms package by 24 July this year and this is what the submissions relate to.

One of the directives – that on universal service and end users rights – aims to ensure the availability throughout the EU of “good quality service through effective competition and choice, and to deal with the circumstances in which the needs of end users are not satisfactorily met by the market.” It also requires that member states place obligations on designated network operators to ensure that “a defined minimum set of services (provision of access at a fixed location, director enquiry service and directories, public pay telephones) of specific quality are available to all, regardless of their geographical location at an affordable price.” Measures for disabled users and those with special needs are also reinforced.

In its submission to the regulator today, Eircom, which is owned by Tony O’Reilly and a number of private US investors, is seeking to abandon its obligation under the USO provision which it says is costing them it in the region of €40m per annum and wants to set a limit on the amount of money it can spend on connecting new users.

This would mean that users in rural or remote areas may not receive the services they require.

Although it said it was satisfied to observe its USO obligations for the moment, it wanted to see ComReg review them.

Eircom also wants all mobile companies to have similar obligations to establish and operate schemes for disabled users and those on low incomes.

A spokeswoman from ComReg told it hopes to issue a response to the submissions in a few weeks’ time.

Earlier this week ComReg invited consumers to voice their opinion on telecoms services as part of its consultative process on the new European Telecoms Framework.

By Suzanne Byrne