Court hears telecoms firm could face multi-million penalty in ’access’ probe

Telecoms watchdog Comreg is seeking to impose penalties on Eircom running into millions of Euros over the company’s alleged failure to comply with its obligation on access to its network for other telecommunication providers, the Commercial Court has heard, reports Ann O’Loughlin.

The claim was made by Maurice Collins SC, for Eircom, now known as eir, as he opposed an application by the Commission for Communications Regulations (Comreg) to have the case entered into the High Court’s fast track commercial list.

Paul Gallagher SC, for Comreg, said the case was entirely suitable to be dealt with in the commercial list because of its very significant implications for market place competition.

The court said it was an appropriate case for the commercial list.

In its proceedings, Comreg is seeking a declaration of non-compliance by eir of a 2011 EU regulation governing access the electronic communication networks and services.

It also seeks an order for payment of a financial penalty, under those regulations, for this asserted breach of eir’s access obligation.

Under EU regulations, eir must provide reasonable access to other providers which request use of access products, services, features, or additional associated facilities in the markets which enable those provider to offer equivalents in the retail market to products offered by eir.

Mr Gallagher, in applying for admission of the proceedings, said eir had claimed this case did not come within the rules for admission to the commercial list and because of delay in bringing the action.

Mr Gallagher rejected both claims and said there was clear precedent for such cases in the past, including cases brought by eir itself.

He also disputed there was any delay and said a final decision to bring the case had only been made at the end of June.

While it was true that last November Comreg had said it would be bringing these proceedings, it also had to determine the penalty and that involved a considerable amount of work on what was a complex matter, he said.

Mr Collins, for eir, said his client has issued separate proceedings challenging the validity of the EU Electronic Communications Networks and Service regulation under which Comreg was bringing its case. Eir believes that case should be heard in advance of the Commercial Court case by Comreg.

Comreg was a public authority, with significant powers, seeking to impose what are "quasi-criminal penalties and financial sanctions" on eir running into the millions, he said.

Mr Collins said this case differed from other cases which had been admitted, in that Comreg is a public authority seeking to impose significant penalties on a private law entity such as eir.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern said Commercial Court rules give a very wide discretion and he was going to exercise that discretion in this case and admit it to the list. He adjourned it for two weeks for further directions on how it should proceed.

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