Irish incumbent PTO Eircom has formally appealed its re-designation by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) as a universal service obligation (USO) operator for telephony services in rural areas of the Republic. The Irish Independent reports the industry regulator as saying that it believes the USO, which requires Eircom to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of basic voice and data access services to homes and businesses in remote areas, should be extended from the current 18 months, to five years. However, the Irish operator has appealed the move claiming it is unhappy with ComReg’s decision to retain the USO without undertaking a strategic review. Whilst the watchdog has said it would consider a relaxing of the stringent terms and conditions imposed on Eircom where it concerns regulation and out of pocket costs, the telco is thought to favour the introduction of a wider USO fund that would be contributed to by alternative operators as well – as is the case in many other markets. Under current rules, Eircom is required to provide the physical poles and cabling to a rural area, even if subsequently, customers choose to opt for services provided by one of its rivals. The former monopoly sees this as an ‘unfair burden’ and is currently embroiled in High Court proceedings over the whole question of USO funding in Ireland. For its part, ComReg has tried to ameliorate Eircom, stating: ‘In respect of access at a fixed location, ComReg is mindful that the provision over time of high speed broadband to homes and businesses, including as a result of the National Broadband Plan, may mean that the requirement for the universal service of access at a fixed location could, in time, lessen and indeed become unnecessary.’
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