It will come as no surprise to those active in the Irish telecoms market that one of the key challenges for the sector during the next two years will be the roll-out of high speed broadband, particularly to rural areas. 

In its Strategy Statement published on 17 July 2014, ComReg also identified consumer protection as an area that needs further attention.  This follows a marked increase in consumer complaints regarding unsolicited communications and cancellation penalties.  The other common areas of complaints continue to be: billing with some operators charging for services not provided/requested; sales; switching and number portability with some operators engaging in tactics that disincentivise consumers from switching providers; general lack of transparency on contract terms and conditions including legitimate limitations on consumer speeds/data limits (‘net neutrality’).  

Regular readers of our ezine will be familiar with ComReg’s focus on consumer protection issues, and ComReg’s long-running investigation regarding eircom’s contract termination procedures which ComReg considered made it more difficult for customers to switch providers  (see also article below “eircom avoids prosecution by agreeing settlement with ComReg over contract termination procedures”).

The Strategy Statement broadly confirms the position in ComReg’s draft statement published earlier this year and included in our previous ezine regarding main trends and challenges in the Irish telecoms market.  Since publication of the draft statement, there have been significant market developments with Three’s acquisition of O2 having completed, and the Electricity Supply Board (the “ESB”) having confirmed its intention to enter the market for the roll-out of high speed broadband in a joint venture arrangement with Vodafone Ireland Ltd (“Vodafone”).  Following on from these market developments, ComReg’s four high-level goals for 2014-2016 remain to:

  • Protect and empower consumers
  • Promote sustainable competition
  • Facilitate innovation, investment and the internal market
  • Be an effective and agile organisation

Those active in the Irish telco market should take note of areas identified in the Strategy Statement where further consultation / review by ComReg is likely to occur.  Examples include:

  • A general review of the impact / implications of VoIP services on the Irish regulatory framework for wholesale and retail voice services.  Given the prevalence of VoIP services in the Irish market, a detailed review of VoIP services is to be welcomed and should hopefully bring greater clarity to their regulatory treatment.
  • Further consultation and review of specific aspects of current Universal Service Obligations and how best to keep these up-to-date as technology changes (see also article below “ComReg issues flurry of decisions around Universal Service Obligations but eircom appeals USO re-designation for fixed line access”).
  • How to ensure the enhanced provision of accurate caller location information by all operators (fixed and mobile) for calls to ‘999’ / ’112’ emergency access services, in line with legislative and technological developments.  
  • Engaging with industry to facilitate discussion on the future development of porting services in the context of the likely emergence of new and innovative services.  By way of example, we have previously reported on ComReg’s consultations in the area of machine-to-machine (“M2M”) services. Although M2M might well fall within the category of new and innovative services, the case for number portability is not entirely certain at this stage.  
  • Consulting on a new Code of Practice for the premium rate services market.  Readers of our previous ezine will be aware that ComReg recently updated the 2012 Code of Practice in May of this year (ComReg 14/45).  However, given the Strategy Statement covers the period 2014-2016, we can likely expect a revised code sometime towards the middle of 2016. 
  • Establishing new rules and procedures for service providers to ensure that they respond directly and more effectively to consumer complaints, reducing the need for ComReg having to get involved.  ComReg has indicated in the Strategy Statement that it will also consider the value of publishing complaint related statistics presumably in an effort to ‘name and shame’ those not performing. 
  • Review of whether ComReg’s existing network integrity and security policy (which at present, merely includes an obligation to report incidents to ComReg) should be updated to include a positive obligation on operators to take appropriate measures to ensure network integrity and security.  Telco operators will need to monitor ComReg developments in this area carefully and assess the impact of any proposed measures on their ability to manage their individual networks as well as the associated costs of the proposals.  
  • A strategic review of eircom’s own wholesale reform.  Depending upon the outcome, this could result in ComReg bringing forward certain consultations or where ComReg has serious concerns, the case for functional separation of eircom Wholesale.  
  • Review of national law measures to incorporate Directive 2014/61/EU on measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks into national law and more importantly, what role ComReg might play in this eg, whether ComReg is likely to be designated as the ‘competent national dispute settlement body’ for settling access disputes and/or ‘single information point’ for oversight of the location of each operator’s existing physical infrastructure.  

In addition to the above, ComReg will continue with its spectrum management strategy including potential release of further bands of spectrum such as the 700 MHz (UHF) and 2.6 GHz bands.  Although timing of a number of the above actions is as yet unclear, the one thing that is clear is that ComReg has a busy few years ahead!