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Objections over absence of telecoms company at cttee

There were strong objections today at the failure of Eir/Eircom to appear before an Oireachtas committee.

The Committee on Transport and Communications had invited Eir and Comreg to discuss the successful prosecutions taken by the regulator against the telecomms company over Eir’s customer care process.

Last month, a court heard that Eir had deliberately tried to prevent customers from logging complaints.

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said today that the committee should examine what more it can do “to force them [Eir] to come”.

While Eir is a private company, it is “a regulated entity”, the senator noted, adding that it had sent a letter to the committee “looking for blanket cover” before deciding not to appear.

“I think we need to rachet it up against Eir, quite frankly,” Senator Dooley said, before being told by the committee chair that they could not – based on advice the committee has received – discuss the issue further in public session.

More than €22 million paid in refunds since 2014.

Noting the fines totaling €7,500 levied against Eir in the recent case, Senator Dooley asked if the sanctions available to ComReg are sufficient.

Helen Dixon, Commissioner at ComReg, responded that, were the case against Eir to be taken today under its new powers, ComReg could refer it to an independent panel of adjudicators.

That panel could impose fines of €5m or 10% of turnover (which she described as “a big bite”) – whichever is greater.

This creates the potential “for the types of fines we have not seen in this sector, heretofore,” Ms Dixon noted.

While she is confident that the adjudicators will have “demonstrable independence”, she conceded that the use of such a system is a new departure.

In her first appearance before the committe in her current role, the former Data Protection Commissioner revealed that, in 2023, consumers flagged 11,740 issues, with 1,565 of these having been classified as formal complaints.

Using its criminal enforcement powers, ComReg has taken cases against “all the major providers” since 2016, and has secured 186 criminal convictions along with fines totalling €242,400.

Using its civil enforcement powers, since 2014, firms have been hit with penalties of €3.94m, and been forced to issue refunds of €10.4m.

Additional refunds of €11.7m were also paid over that period – promptly and proactively, she said – by firms cooperating following ComReg’s intervention.

Ms Dixon said that ComReg has recently acquired “new powers and obligations” in what is a quickly evolving landscape.

It is also in the process of competing a customer charter which, along with other improvements, will hopefully “stem some of the complaints” and head off the need for enforcement.

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