On 2 April 2015, ComReg published an Information Notice confirming details on the numbers and value of refunds made by eircom to fixed line customers who suffered service outages during December 2013-30 April 2014. ComReg has called on eircom’s wholesale customers to pass on the relevant refunds to their own retail customers.
This latest Information Notice follows ComReg’s previous Notice on 11 November 2014, which set out details of the out-of-court settlement reached between eircom and ComReg to dispose of eircom’s High Court appeal against ComReg’s Decision D10/14 ‘The provision of telephony services under the Universal Service Obligation – Access at a Fixed Location’
Under the disputed Decision, eircom had been (re-)designated, on an interim basis, for a further 18 months (from July 2014 – October 2015) as the universal service provider (“USP”) for access at a fixed location – meaning that eircom would be required, inter alia, to satisfy reasonable requests to provide fixed line voice connections to the public network and functional internet access (“FIA”) (ie, 28 Kbps). The re-designation for an interim 18 month period was intended primarily to avoid a situation arising where certain consumers (eg, particularly vulnerable consumers in remote locations) were unable to obtain a fixed line connection on commercial terms. At the same time, the additional time gained by ‘rolling-over’ eircom’s existing USP designation would enable ComReg to conduct a fuller consultation on the underlying need to impose a universal service obligation for access at a fixed location on a longer term basis (ie, three to five years from expiry of eircom’s then current designation to end June 2014). Finally, it was also hoped that in buying time, providers other than eircom, would have the chance to come forward and bid to become the USP.
During the consultation process, eircom had raised a number of objections. In particular, eircom objected to ComReg’s ability to ‘roll-over’ eircom’s previous designation beyond 30 June 2014, as well as the level of quality of service obligations that would continue to apply to eircom, as USP, during the interim period. For example, eircom had argued that it was unnecessary for broadband to be included in the universal service obligation given the Irish Government’s various broadband schemes, and prevalence of smartphones and mobile connectivity. On 1 August 2014, eircom issued High Court proceedings to appeal against ComReg Decision D10/14.
As noted above, eircom subsequently negotiated an out-of-court settlement with ComReg. The settlement involved, inter alia, an agreement that eircom would automatically provide refunds for customers (both wholesale and retail) who suffered outages for a period exceeding ten working days during the period 20 December 2013 – 30 April 2014, and going forward during the period 31 October 2014 – 31 December 2015.
The Information Notice issued by ComReg confirms details provided by eircom that it has complied with its commitments under the settlement, and refunded 11,607 wholesale and retail fixed line customers for outages suffered during the period 20 December 2013 – 30 April 2014. The total amount of refunds made (wholesale and retail) is stated to be €569,720 (excluding VAT). Although ComReg does not have power to compel the relevant wholesale customers to pass on the refunds, ComReg has indicated in the Information Notice that it “expects the other fixed service providers that are among the wholesale customers mentioned above, to in turn refund their retail customers”.