ComReg issues a preliminary consultation on how best to enable consumers to control costs with the possibility of requiring all undertakings – and not just eircom – to provide SCB facilities. Inputs to the preliminary consultation are invited by 17:00 on Friday 8 May 2015.

At present only eircom, in its capacity as designated universal service provider (“USP”), is required to provide certain stipulated facilities to enable consumers to control their expenditure (ComReg 14/71 Decision D10/14).  According to the relevant ComReg decision, eircom is required to provide selective call barring facilities for outgoing calls to national, mobile, international and premium rate numbers – with call barring facilities to premium rate numbers being provided free of charge.  Notwithstanding the fact that only eircom has been required to provide SCB, a number of other operators offer similar SCB facilities voluntarily eg, particularly as regards calls to premium rate services (“PRS”).  One of the questions for ComReg now is whether this voluntary practice should be put on a more formal basis and even mandated.

Before launching directly into the normal consultation process, ComReg however has decided to issue a preliminary consultation - this is aimed at assisting ComReg in determining whether regulatory intervention is in fact necessary or whether sufficient safeguards already exist without extending SCB requirements to all operators. As part of this, ComReg is also looking at whether the current SCB requirement is correctly framed or whether additional aspects (not forming part of eircom’s USP designation) should be included (eg, calls to VoIP services, automatic barring of access to number ranges intended only for adults, inclusion of SCB not just for calls to PRS but also as regards consumers sending or receiving a premium rate SMS and PRS charged via direct carrier billing (“DCB”)).

Certain practices however – despite their potential to lead to consumers racking up significant costs – will not be addressed. Examples include the increasingly popular “freemium” services, whereby the actual application or game itself is free, but consumers are encourage to pay for add-ons through in-app purchases. Certain categories of customers – particularly children – are especially vulnerable to these types of purchases.  However, as the in-app purchase tends to be billed directly to the consumer’s credit card (or his/her parents’ credit card) this type of purchase does not fall within ComReg’s telecoms remit and is really a matter for banking / financial regulation.    

In addition to considering the scope and application of any SCB requirement, ComReg is also seeking submissions on likely costs of introducing SCB and other cost control facilities – this includes whether consumers should be required to pay a charge to be able to avail of such facilities, and if so the amount of any such charge.  It would be a shame if the levying of a charge cancelled out the benefits of the SCB service – but ComReg seems well aware of this.

ComReg is hoping that inputs received to this preliminary consultation will better inform the subsequent consultation document.  No indication is given however, as to when we might expect to see the main consultation document.  Although there are some areas – such as freemium services – where unfortunately ComReg’s hands are tied, the consultation is certainly a welcome step in the right direction.  Coupled with ComReg’s continued enforcement in the PRS sector, it is hoped that instances of reports of customers running up hundreds of euros worth of bills on apps / other services will become the exception.