The telecoms regulator is in a row with Eir, the country’s largest telecom firm, about whether it should be obliged to provide public pay phones.
Eir has said it will remove all public and private pay phones “over time, and on a case-by-case basis”, if it is no longer designated as a universal provider of such a service by ComReg.
Eir says the operation and maintenance of public and private pay phones is now uneconomic.
The telecom firm has criticised the recent decision of ComReg to extend its obligations to provide public pay phones for another three months, until the end of September, after the expiry of an existing agreement on June 30.
The regulator said Eir’s assertion, at the end of June, about its wish to cease being responsible for public pay phones represented new information.
Eir says ComReg has been aware of its position since February and a letter sent to the regulator on June 21 only provided further clarification about its views on the future of public pay phones and it was “merely stating the obvious”.
Eir says the regulator has failed to follow due process in imposing an extension of regulatory obligations on the company.
Eir says ComReg’s rollover of its designation as universal provider of public pay phones is unlawful and the regulator needs to demonstrate that there is still a need for such services.
Without any obligation to operate public pay phones, Eir says it would act “as a responsible commercial operator, in approaching the provision of pay phones”. However, ComReg says that Eir has not provided it with sufficient details about what its approach to pay phones would be if it were not obliged to operate them and if it would “meet the reasonable needs of end users”.
In 2014, ComReg instructed Eir that the number of public pay phones in operation at the time should be maintained, unless their usage fell below a specified level.
Eir is allowed to remove a public pay phone where its usage in the previous six months averages less than one minute per day.
It is also allowed to remove phones where there is evidence of antisocial behaviour or where its removal is requested by a local authority.
In 2016 — the latest year for which figures are available — there were 900 pay phones around the country, of which a third were in Dublin. That’s down from 1,300 in 2014.
As part of a rationalisation programme in 2009, Eir removed 2,000 of 3,500 public pay phones from service.
ComReg said people still use public pay phones because they have no call credit or a poor signal, while they were also used by people who have no landline or mobile handset, including vulnerable citizens, such as homeless people.
Calls to freefone numbers account for 50% of calls made from public pay phones.
Eir is obliged to ensure that it is possible to make emergency calls and to access directory inquiries from public pay phones.
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