IrelandOffline calls for an end to ComReg’s failure to protect consumers

IrelandOffline calls for an end to ComReg’s failure to protect consumers

IrelandOffline, a leading consumer advocacy group, have examined a number of issues that ComReg, the telecommunications regulator, have promised action on and published papers on the subject and have refused to actually take any action. IrelandOffline call for telecommunications regulation that protects the consumer, not only the industry.

In July, 2007, ComReg determined that no supplier of telecommunications services was fully compliant with the requirements of Regulation 17 of the Universal Service Users’ Rights Regulations. These regulations are compulsory EU directives and are in force since 2002. No action has been taken on the subject to ensure the contracts are fully compliant with the 2002 directive and to ensure protection of Irish consumers. This directive provides for some basic standards in such contracts including clear contact and service level details(1)

Almost every broadband service currently offered to consumers in Ireland is described as “unlimited” yet not a single one comes without some sort of limits. It stretches the use of the English language beyond imagination to have these packages described as unlimited.
Many have the limits hidden and buried in layers of small print on their websites, whilst more are deliberately vague about the limits. Some providers give the end user no means of checking their usage but are quick to charge customers on the strength of these hidden statistics and the end users have no way to verify these spurious charges. ComReg, once again, have failed to protect the consumer from this flaw.

Broadband Code of Conduct
The ASAI and ComReg promised a “Broadband Code of Conduct”(2) for Ireland in 2007 and the ASAI published their minimal advertising standard in March 2008. Since then, nothing has been done to protect consumers from misleading advertising by telecommunications providers. Nothing has been done to stop ISPs mis-advertising services as “unlimited”, or using misleading contention ratios in advertising. Nor has anything been done, since, to limit their “free” offers that actually cost money, or advertising non-Broadband products as Broadband.

Regulatory Capture
ComReg has much common with the previous financial regulator, who was conveniently powerless to protect the end consumer and, indeed, the country. Many Irish regulators are captured by their own sectors and fail to protect the end consumer of that sectoral product, or service.

Clearly the Irish version of regulation has often been an outright disaster for consumers and needs to be urgently addressed. We are calling on the incoming government to take the appropriate firm action and create a management system for communications services that has a clear focus on the end consumer and which has representatives of consumers in its management structure. ComReg is, and has been, a major part of the problem not part of the solution.


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