Eir has accused ComReg of breaking EU laws in its clampdown on costly helplines

The watchdog is rolling out new rules relating to ‘non-geographic numbers’.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

TELCO GIANT EIR has complained to the European Commission over the Irish communications watchdog’s clampdown on costly helpline numbers, claiming it breached European laws with its intervention.

ComReg recently ruled that from 1 December 2019, calls made to so-called non-geographic numbers (NGNs) with the prefixes 1850, 1890, 0818 and 076 must cost no more than a call made to a landline number.

This means that mobile service operators must include NGNs in customer bundle packages that provide calls to landlines, meaning that no extra charges will general apply for the special numbers.

An investigation by ComReg concluded that these numbers – which are mainly used for public service helplines and banking – are confusing to consumers.

It found that many people have experienced “bill shock” because they are unaware of the high charges incurred on NGN calls made from mobile phones.

Complaints

During the consultation period on the new rules, several mobile service providers objected to the proposed changes and accused ComReg of overstepping its authority.

Former state-owned Eir accused the watchdog of “going beyond the scope of its powers”, complaining that the regulator does not have the authority to prescribe what must be included in mobile bundle packages.

It also claimed that ComReg is “attempting to circumvent” European Union laws related to accessing NGNs throughout the trade bloc.

Noting the end of roaming charges in 2017, Eir said that EU rules dictate that national regulatory authorities must consult interested parties across the union to “ensure that decisions at national level do not have adverse effect on the single market”.

Eir said in its submission that it has “commenced engagement with the European Commission in relation to this matter”.

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Source: Picture by: Lauren Hurley/PA Archive/PA Images

Mobile service provider Three echoed Eir’s complaints over ComReg’s new rules, saying that the commission was proposing an “intrusive intervention” by forcing companies to include NGN calls in customer packages.

“This is an aggressive intervention that purports to directly limit retail services providers’ ability to determine the price, price structure and configuration of consumer bundles they charge for different call types,” the company claimed.

Vodafone Ireland said in its submission that the proposal “will result in operators being expected to carry non-geo calls while losing money on every call”.

“This is clearly a disproportionate solution to a retail problem and, we believe, an action in excess of ComReg’s powers,” it said.

This not the first time telcos have clashed with the regulator. As previously reported by Fora, several firms rounded on ComReg last year, complaining of “serious failures”, weakness and under-staffing at the body.

Consolidation

As well as clamping down on the cost of NGN calls from mobiles, ComReg proposed reducing the number of prefixes from five to just two – 0819 and freephone 1800.

Companies that use the other numbers have been given three years to prepare for the changeover. However some utility providers that use NGNs for information and emergency service lines complained about the proposed timeframe.

Irish Water said it “firmly opposed” the removal of 1850 numbers.

It claimed the move would have “serious cost implications” for the company as it would have to migrate its customer service and emergency service numbers, which could have “safety implications for the general public”.

A similar complaint was made by Gas Networks Ireland, which is part of Ervia, the same parent group of Irish Water.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities – which uses several 1850 numbers for various safety hotlines – also raised concerns over the practicality of consolidating NGNs to just two prefixes.

It said altering the number for its emergency service line for reporting suspected gas leaks within three years “would be a significant and costly undertaking to the point that it would be unrealistic within the proposed timelines”.

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