TMCnet News

[July 03, 2006]


(Daily Mail Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) IRISH phone users are paying the highest bills in Europe, it was revealed last night.

Both mobile and fixed-line rental charges are almost twice the EU average, according to new figures.

Consumer lobby groups and politicians expressed outrage at this latest manifestation of the rip-off Republic. It comes as Eircom is about to be sold to an Australian investment house for E2.4billion, as well as following huge profits for Vodafone and O2.

Telecoms watchdog Comreg reported that mobile phone giants take in average monthly revenues of E47.20 from every Irish customer - compared with an EU average of E30.67. Germans' average monthly bills are just E22.84.

Meanwhile, the average cost of a line rental here is E24.20 a month, more than E9 above the EU average, and almost E6 more than the second most expensive country.

Ireland also has the second highest bills for domestic calls in the EU. Only Finland proves more expensive.

Vodafone, with profits last year of more than E45billion, claims that its Irish revenues are the highest anywhere in the world, except Japan. And O2 reported

pre-tax profits last year of more than E214million in Ireland alone.

Michael Kilcoyne, chairman of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, accused the mobile phone giants of operating a cartel in effect and demanded urgent action from the body which regulates the Irish telecommunications sector, Comreg.

'I would like to see some real competition and to see prices forced down,' he declared.

O2 and Vodafone, along with Meteor, had reached a 'very cosy arrangement' in dividing up the market between them, Mr Kilcoyne said.

'It will be an uphill battle to change that but consumers should continue to campaign against high charges, and try not to use their phones unless they have to,' he added.

The consumer body boss said he was not surprised by the findings. 'We have been highlighting this for a year now,' he said.

'It is really up to the regulator now to take some action.' Noel O'Flynn, the chairman of the Dil's subcommittee on communications laid the blame squarely on the operators.

'I have been saying consistently for the past year that charges are too high,' he said.

'It is not fair to say, as the mobile phone companies always do when this comes up, that Irish people talk too much and that's the reason for the high telephone bills.' 'It's quite obvious to me from the annual returns that [the operators] are making exorbitant profits in this country, and that what we need is more competition.' Mr O'Flynn praised Meteor, recently taken over by Eircom, for breaking into the mobile market and offering prices on average ten per cent lower than their rivals.

But he criticised Eircom for charging users an average of E9 more per landline than their European counterparts.

However, the Cork TD added that the State could not force the mobile phone companies to lower their charges.

He said: 'It is not a government's job to intervene. The only way phone bills are going to come down is with the introduction of more competition.'

Damien Mulley, chairman of broadband pressure group Ireland Offline, said it was time for a regulatory shakeup in Ireland.

'The latest Comreg report highlights the cataclysmic failures of the telecoms environment in Ireland which has seen prices continually increase and speed away from the EU average,' he said.

'Comreg is meant to be making sure consumers get value for money. They have totally and completely failed and now are trying to spin away their failures.' Mr Mulley said consumers were entitled to know they have the highest line rental in the EU and the second highest landline bills.

'Comreg fails to include the pricing models used by the EU which would show our landline bills being the second most expensive in the EU,' he said.

'This selective inclusion and exclusion of facts is unacceptable and needs to stop.' In March, the European Commission urged an end to roaming charges for tourists visiting other EU states.

Travellers can be charged up to E2.04 per minute to make and receive calls, compared with a 40c wholesale figure.

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