ComReg signals ‘branch out’ of its review of the treatment of non-geographic numbers - 1800, 1850 and 1890.  These numbers are mainly used by businesses for customer services / help-desk services where rather than the calling party bearing the cost of the call, it is the business that picks up the charges.

Readers of our previous ezines will be familiar with us reporting that during the first quarter of last year, ComReg issued a call for input on the wholesale retention charge associated with the provision of call origination for non-geographic numbers.  For the last ten years or so, wholesale retention charges have been dealt with by the telecoms industry on a voluntary basis.  Fixed network operators have symmetrically levied the same retention rate that eircom charges other operators.  eircom’s rate is set according to a modelled cost-based rate - this follows from a 2007 ComReg decision designating eircom as having significant market power (“SMP”) in the market for wholesale interconnection services.  Although at first sight, there is some attraction in the apparent simplicity and uniformity of approach, some participants feel that this is holding them back from offering more competitive services.

Industry workshops were organised by ComReg in the early part of last year, with various views expressed by participants.  One of the most vociferous advocates of change was BT Communications Ireland Ltd (“BT”) who put forward a proposal to break away from the principle of symmetry including for example, by introducing a new Freephone 0800 number range.  Some participants however have queried the economic attractiveness of such an approach, citing costs overheads associated with implementing a new range, not to mention business disruption and customer confusion.  Others have focussed not so much on the need for symmetry between fixed operators as such, but rather on the wholesale charging disparities between fixed and mobile operators.  You can read the various opinions expressed in an Annex to ComReg 14/130 here.

ComReg has now indicated that it is in the process of developing amobile cost model to supplement the existing fixed costs model (agreed by industry on a voluntary basis).  Unlike the fixed costs model discussed above, mobile network operators do not follow a symmetric system, but set their own origination rates according to their own pricing models.

Finally - as part of ComReg’s work in this area - ComReg has identified a number of concerns regarding retail tariffs associated with non-geographic numbers. ComReg has signalled that it intends to conduct a review on the functioning of these types of non-geographic numbers at a retail level.  ComReg has not provided any detail at this stage as to the scope of this review or when it might be conducted.

For businesses offering or making use of 1800 style numbers, it seems there is still much to play for and they can expect ongoing opportunities to express their views and seek to frame the future regulatory treatment of these numbers.  Businesses would therefore be well advised to speak up and not miss out on making their voices heard.