Eir made the call in its submission to ComReg’s consultation on public payphone thresholds, which currently stipulates that the telecoms company may only remove a payphone if it is the focus of antisocial behaviour or if its usage is low — averaging at less than one minute a day over a six-month period.
Following the consultation, ComReg has announced it will not make any changes to the thresholds.
“We had hoped that ComReg would recognise our concerns given the low use of payphones and, as outlined in the submission, this service is now become uneconomical,” said a spokesperson for Eir.
In its submission to ComReg, Eir said the “substitution of payphones by mobile phones in particular has resulted in public payphone usage having dwindled to a level that could not warrant the continued imposition of the USO to provide public payphones”.
It pointed to “mobile penetration now at 124.5%”, adding: “Mobile service is also more affordable and convenient for end users than payphones.”
Eir called for the usage threshold to be increased to an average of two minutes a day over six months and “additional removals criterion to enable the removal of public payphones that have become isolated and therefore extremely uneconomic to serve”.
In its decision, ComReg said Eir was selected as the service provider for payphones due to its “geographical ubiquity, its experience, and its capability”, and noted that the consultation was specifically with regard to usage thresholds and did not cover the questions of Eir’s service obligations.
“Eir appears to be aligning the benefit to society with actual (low) use of a particular public payphone,” it stated.
“We consider, however, that public payphones are provided for use by anyone, in particular as a back-up. The people using them and the reason for use will vary depending on the circumstances and it is not relevant to compare it with the general phone usage of other consumers of electronic communications services.
“We also considered the impact of increasing the level above two minutes and noted this would result in very few public payphones remaining as only a very small number of public payphones have usage of more than three minutes per day. Increasing the threshold to five minutes may have a similar effect to removing the obligation to provide public payphones.”
‘A prime example of how much of an eyesore public phoneboxes have become’
ComReg received a total of 21 submissions on its consultation over the provision of payphones — many of which called for the removal of such fixtures because of antisocial behaviour.
The Abbey Theatre complained: “The phonebox at the corner of Abbey and Marlborough St outside the Abbey Theatre is a prime example of how much of an eyesore that public phoneboxes have become. It’s neglected. It’s an advertising space, has a broken pane of glass, and tends to be used by those contributing to antisocial behaviour and not the general public.”
Galway City councillor Donal Lyons argued that specific phoneboxes — not identified in the report — are “in a state of major disrepair” and “are unsightly, obstructing a busy thoroughfare and at night they are continually being used as urinals in this busy tourist location”.
Another complainant suggested enclosed phoneboxes be replaced by US-style ‘open pole’ fixtures. “Currently they are being used for a toilet; we have witnessed people urinating in them. Also people smoking inside them, regular drug taking. Personally I would not feel safe inside one of them for fear of mugging or being attacked.”
This view was backed by business improvement district organisation Dublin Town, which suggested open phoneboxes would reduce “public defecation, litter build up, and drug consumption” at payphones and would make them more accessible for wheelchair users.
Dublin City councillor Ciaran Cuffe complained about Eir’s use of phone boxes for advertising .
Others called for the retention of public payphones. “It’s important that all people have access to a phone if they need it. We cannot assume all people are mobile users,” wrote one member of the public.
Dalkey Community Council made a submission “on behalf of a number of concerned residents in Dalkey who are very upset that Dalkey may lose the Eircom phonebox at the Square in the town. It is in a position to serve one end of the town and the local residents find it as a reassuring facility.”