The European Commission had opened an in-depth investigation into proposals from the State’s communication reguator that would allow National Broadband Ireland (NBI) to access Eir’s civil engineering network to provide high-speed services at a lower than normal price.
The commission has said it has “serious doubts” over ComReg’s proposals to allow the operator of the National Broadband Plan, National Broadband Ireland, to use the incumbent’s infrastructure at a lower price than that paid by other telecoms companies
NBI wants to access Eir’s network and use its ducts and polls as part of its national programme to deliver high-speed broadband services to about 537,000 premises.
Given that civil engineering often represents a substantial part of the total cost of deploying a telecoms network, other operators are typically charged a fee to access the incumbent’s infrastructure.
In outlining its reasons for a price differential for NBI, ComReg said the purpose of the National Broadband Plan has a “unique set of circumstances unlikely to be replicated”.
“NBI’s demand for civil engineering access only arises due to the National Broadband Plan intervention. Eircom will likely become a significant civil engineering provider . . . in turn NBI will eventually replace Eircom as the sole next generation access wholesale provider in this area,” it said.
The commission has expressed its concerns with the proposals and their compatibility with EU law.
“The commission considers that ComReg’s measure establishes an unjustified discrimination between NBI and other access seekers, by granting NBI very favourable conditions of access to Eircom’s civil engineering,” it said in a statement announcing its investigation.
It believes the approach proposed by the regulator would mean that deployment of broadband services by other operators would be more expensive than in areas covered by the National Broadband Plan. This, the commission says, effectively mean that customers in urban areas would be cross-subsidising the rollout of the scheme.
This marks the second time in recent months that the European Commission has blocked moves by ComReg to deregulate the telecoms market here. In September it informed the regulator that it had to revisit its plans to partially deregulate the fixed voice telephony market.
The commission, ComReg and the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, now have three months to “co-operate closely”, to identify the most appropriate and effective measures to remedy the issues raised.