Goodbye telecoms resellers, hello barriers to entry – ComReg consumer moves will give eircom more business?

Many will remember the whole fuss last year when eircom cut off Smart telecom after they didn’t pay their bills. About 45,000 people were without a phone service. Well now ComReg want to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again and fair play to them for doing so. They want to put in conditions that will make telcos step forward if they might see a potential disconnection of their service and also make the potential disconnectors tell ComReg. In other words, if these conditions were in place last year, Smart would have had to tell ComReg and eircom would have had to tell ComReg that a disconnection was imminent. The conditions mean that a kind of backup/migration process needs to be in place for this cutoff. All good, right? This is what ComReg say on the matter:

While the Commission for Communications Regulation (‘ComReg’), as regulator of the sector, cannot have any operational responsibility for service delivery to consumers, it does have certain powers, which are discussed in this paper, which can go some way to mitigating the worst impacts of service disruption or, at least, creating greater certainty as to what happens in the event of service disruption.

this paper sets out proposals as to when and in what circumstances ComReg and consumers should be notified of potential service disruption. It proposes that all operators should use reasonable endeavours to minimise service disruption and that all operators should have a disruption minimisation plan.

Now consider one of these new policies:

If ComReg has prior notice of the possibility of cessation of services (as is provided for in proposed conditions 18.5, 18.6, 18.7, 18.8 and 18.9), ComReg can take appropriate steps in advance of any cessation to ensure consumer protection. For example ComReg may feel it is appropriate to take steps to warn consumers of the possibility that service might be disrupted, ensure that consumers retain a publicly available electronic communications service for a period and facilitate as seamless a change over to alternative suppliers as possible. It is essential for consumer protection that ComReg has as much visibility and control of the ceasing of the service as possible to ensure, where possible, some protection to those consumers receiving the service is provided.

Playing advocate here, a little. What if you were the little telco who could and due to some screw up your cash flow is shite this month but past history shows you are doing well and always pay your bills, though a little late. You are now eating more and more into eircom’s market and then they notify you and ComReg that they are cutting you off. With this rule ComReg could come along and force you to switch all your customers over to eircom. Right? Or they don’t but all your customers and the public are now learning that you are on shaky ground. Reputation ruined?

And from the language used, it seems that if you have a pay dispute with your landlord or with the E.S.B., ComReg have a right to know about this as it *could* impact on business too. Should ComReg know about every money aspect of a company?

I remember the story of a large supermarket chain who would not pay their suppliers to the end of the month and then used to stretch it a bit more and more and as a result they were able to squeeze more discounts out of the suppliers who feared bankruptcy. Clever. Couldn’t the same happen here with eircom or another large wholesaler allowing a (minor to them) debt build up and then pulling out the rug?

With the fact that this can happen, this will surely discourage new entrants to the market? Reminds me of the bond that Bupa and Vivas need before they can operate, something VHI does not need. Or will this make the existing and new players financially and functionally more stable?

I genuinely commend ComReg wanting to make sure people retain a proper phone/broadband service but I wonder will this get twisted/corrupted?

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