Dáil Éireann - Volume 386 - 01 February, 1989

Ceisteanna-Questions. Oral Answers. - Telecommunications Services Monopoly.

8. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications if it is intended to introduce competition to the Irish market [958] by licensing private enterprise to compete with Telecom Éireann.

Mr. R. Burke: Under the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, Telecom Éireann have the exclusive privilege of providing telecommunications services within the State up to and including a connection point in the premises of the subscriber and I have no plans at present to change this position in relation to basic telephone, telex and data transmission services. Competition already exists in the market for the supply of telecommunications terminal equipment in as much as suppliers of such equipment are licensed to compete with Telecom Éireann and their subsidiary, Telecom Éireann Information Services Ltd., for the supply, installation and maintenance of all terminal equipment except for telephone hand sets. Competition in the supply of hand sets will be allowed not later than 31 December, 1990.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Is the Minister aware that Telecom Éireann are allowed compete with people in the private sector for the supply of certain facilities? In view of that fact and of the fact that the Ombudsman's office is tied up because 45 per cent of their workload deals with complaints about Telecom Éireann, would the Minister not agree that there is an indication that public opinion does not support the continued monopoly of Telecom Éireann on the supply of the phone service?

Mr. R. Burke: Most of the complaints in the Ombudsman's office about Telecom Éireann refer to billings and Telecom Éireann are conscious of this problem. That is why they have initiated a programme of bills identifying individual calls. There is a pilot scheme in Limerick at the moment and it is intended to extend this across the board so as to solve the problem to which the Deputy refers. In relation to competition, Telecom Éireann are doing an excellent job and I intend to encourage them to broaden [959] their scope rather than to cut back on their monopoly.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Is the Minister aware that it costs the Ombudsman's office £298,000 a year to investigate these complaints, that 45 per cent of all the complaints investigated relate to Telecom Éireann and that of those complaints the Ombudsman is successful in only 25 per cent of them and partly successful in the case of 15 per cent? Would that not indicate to the Minister that Telecom Éireann are not consumer oriented, that they have a monopoly attitude and badly need competition, contrary to the impression the Minister is giving in the House today?

Mr. R. Burke: In response to the public demand for bills identifying individual calls, Telecom Éireann are investing approximately £20 million in installing a complete billing system which will allow the subscriber to identify individual calls. In relation to the question of competition, Telecom Éireann have the rights up to the door of the premises but inside the premises in many cases they are facing competition and are responding to it through their Telecom information services. I would encourage that. It is the right way forward. Telecom Éireann, though not perfect, are doing an excellent job and should be encouraged.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Does the Minister agree that in many cases telephone bills are calculated as one might calculate how long is a piece of string and that there is not really any accuracy? Is the Minister aware that in places like Bonn, the handset has a meter which clocks up the units of call and the user can calculate the size of the bill? Would the Minister not agree that something as simple as that could be introduced if Telecom Éireann got off their backsides and had to compete so that they would have to introduce simple systems with which the consumer could identify?

Mr. R. Burke: A pilot scheme has [960] started in Limerick and will be extended on a countrywide basis so that every call can be identified on a bill. Surely that is a major step forward. We have gone a long way from the question asked here.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will allow a final brief supplementary.

Mr. R. Bruton: Does the Minister accept that the exclusive privilege provided in the Acts governing Telecom Éireann only extends to voice telephoning and is the Minister not aware that he is in fact extending way beyond the intention of the Legislature by providing that the only area of competition should be in relation to terminal equipment?

Mr. R. Burke: No, I do not believe I am extending beyond the general wishes of this House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 9, please.