Commission for Communications Regulation
Improved Management of Road Opening
Resource-Sharing Requirements

The long-awaited Communications Regulation Bill was passed into law in Ireland in April 2002. Although the bill was only published in March 2002, its passage through the Oireachtas (Parliament) was prioritized and it was one of the final pieces of legislation to be passed before the Dail (the lower house of Parliament) was dissolved (a general election is due to be held in Ireland on May 17). The bill was a major lobbying point for many technology and telecommunications companies, which consider its enactment essential for the development of broadband technology in Ireland.

The main objectives of the new Communications Regulation Act 2002 are set out below.

Commission for Communications Regulation

Section 6 of the act establishes the Commission for Communications Regulation, which will replace the existing national regulatory authority, the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. The commission will consist of at least one but not more than three members, and the current director of telecommunications regulation, Etain Doyle, will automatically be appointed to the commission. Although the enforcement of competition law has been entrusted to the Irish Competition Authority under the Competition Acts 1991-2002, it is notable that one of the commission's objectives is to 'promote competition', which includes ensuring that there is no distortion or restriction of competition in the electronic communications sector.

Powers and functions
Section 10 of the act sets out the functions of the commission as follows:

  • to ensure companies' compliance with their obligations in relation to the supply of and access to electronic communications services;

  • to manage the radio frequency spectrum and the national numbering resource;

  • to ensure compliance by providers of postal services with their obligations in relation to the provision of postal services;

  • to investigate complaints in relation to the supply of and access to electronic communications services and networks; and

  • to ensure compliance by persons in relation to the placing on the market of communications equipment.

Increased powers of enforcement
Part 3 of the act sets out the commission's powers of enforcement. Pursuant to Section 39, commission-appointed 'authorized officers' may enter premises connected with the provision of electronic communications services and remove and retain books, documents or records for further examination. These powers are similar to - and in some respects greater than - the so-called 'dawn raid' powers of national and European competition authorities. For example, members of the European Commission are only permitted to remove copies of documents, while the 2002 act permits authorized officers to remove originals.

One of the most significant initiatives of the 2002 act is to increase substantially the penalties that may be imposed on telecommunications companies for a breach of a condition in their licences. Pursuant to Section 45, an undertaking may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000, or on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €4 million or 10% of turnover in the previous financial year, whichever is the greater. Previously, the maximum fine that could be imposed for such a breach was €1,900.

Improved Management of Road Opening

Part 5 of the act is aimed at restricting the disruption to traffic caused by telecommunications companies carrying out road works when laying cables. Section 53 requires network operators to obtain the prior written consent of the relevant road authority before carrying out road works for the purpose of establishing underground electronic communications infrastructure. A network operator who carries out such work without having obtained prior written consent from the relevant road authority is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000, or on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €1 million.

Resource-Sharing Requirements

Section 57 provides that all network operators have the right to negotiate agreements to share physical infrastructure with other infrastructure providers. The commission may intervene to resolve any disputes that arise and may impose conditions for physical infrastructure sharing.

For further information on this topic please contact David Sanfey at A & L Goodbody by telephone (+353 1 649 2000) or by fax (+353 1 649 2649) or by email ([email protected]). The A & L Goodbody website can be accessed at