Minister tells ComReg to get tough on FRIACO

24 Feb 2003

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, has issued a set of directions to the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), urging it to adhere to Government policy directions on broadband and ensure swift progress in the rollout of flat-rate internet access (FRIACO).

As well as this, Minister Ahern (pictured) has instructed ComReg to provide monthly updates on progress of FRIACO until such a time as flat-rate internet access services are available commercially in the marketplace.

Ireland is still one of the few remaining countries in the EU that is slow to roll out FRIACO services and this country appears constantly at the lower end of international research in terms of broadband and telecoms competitiveness.

In what his department describes as a “radical step of directing the telecommunications regulator to introduce flat-rate internet access”, Minister Ahern has directed ComReg to provide monthly progress updates on its delivery to consumers.

As well as urging that best practice procedures are adopted by the commission in reducing the cost of regulation as well as assessing the impact of regulatory decisions before they are imposed, Minister Ahern directed ComReg to pay attention to a series of draft policy directions published by his department in December.

The draft policy called for “the widespread availability of dial-up access to the internet charged at flat rates and at affordable prices would be of substantial benefit to users as well as the further development of the market for internet access provision.” It also called for greater North-South co-operation on infrastructure and technological R&D initiatives.

“The commission shall make use of its powers under the legislation as appropriate to bring about agreements among market players in order to facilitate early introduction of retail dial-up internet access services charged at flat rates. The commission shall report to the Minister on progress in relation to this matter within one month of the issue of this direction, and on a monthly basis thereafter until such time as retail services are introduced, making any recommendations it considers appropriate for further action.”

Last March, the Communications Bill restructured the former one-commissioner Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation (ODTR) into the present three-person ComReg as well as giving it stronger punitive powers to ensure that telecom carriers operate within the confines of their licence agreements. Some of these powers include fining an operator up to 10pc of its overall revenues.

However, there is still some confusion as to the extent to which ComReg can enforce its punitive powers on errant market players and indications from ComReg are that they are still awaiting direction from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the issue.

By John Kennedy