Universal service is a safety net to ensure that a set of at least the minimum services is available to all end-users and at an affordable price, where the risk of social exclusion arising from the lack of such access prevents citizens from full social and economic participation in society.
The Universal Service Obligations (USO) ensure the provision of basic telecommunication services throughout the State, particularly in areas of the State (such as rural or sparsely populated areas) where the market might not otherwise deliver these services.
eir is the current designated Universal Service Provider (USP) for the period 31 October 2021 until 30 June 2023 for access at a fixed location.
What type of service is eir required to provide under the USO?
provide a connection to the public communications network that is capable of supporting voice, facsimile and data communications at data rates that are sufficient to permit functional Internet access.
ComReg has not specified a specific rate for functional internet access. ComReg decided to specify that: the data rate must not be less than 28.8 kbit/s, as a minimum data rate; and an associated target that 94% of installed telephone connections must be capable of supporting a minimum data rate of 28.8 kbits/s. This is a minimum data rate and that it does not preclude eir from offering data rates that are faster than this.
eir has an obligation to supply reasonable access requests where there is no alternative infrastructure and equivalent service available.
All existing connections and/or publicly available telephone service (whether active or not), are deemed to be reasonable and should continue to be supplied, (including in-situ connections).
While eir must satisfy a request for an existing connection, it is open to eir to use any technology to do so. The requirement in respect of existing connections does not stipulate that that this must be provided using copper and does not preclude eir from offering fibre-based services, if they so wish, to provide the connection.
An end-user may request a standalone publicly available telephone service (new connection). Where this occurs, eir, as the USP, may fulfil this request using most cost-efficient technology (which is likely to be a fixed cellular solution) which will not exceed €7,000 (excluding V.A.T.).
Where eir, as the USP, estimates reasonably that the cost of satisfying it will exceed €7,000 (excluding V.A.T.); and the end-user has agreed to pay the costs that exceed €7,000 (inclusive of V.A.T.) that request is reasonable and eir, as the USP, shall satisfy it.
If the end-user is not satisfied with the solution proposed by eir, as the USP, the end-user will be able to request an alternative technology. If this alternative technology is more expensive than that proposed by eir, as the USP, the end-user must be willing to pay the costs above the technology proposed by eir , as the USP (i.e., commercial service).
This shall however be subject to an exception: if eir confirms that the alternative infrastructure is mobile, but the end-user does not agree that this will not provide an equivalent service to that currently prevailing for access at a fixed location (including minimum indoor availability) eir, as the USP, must promptly notify ComReg of this fact, with relevant supporting information. ComReg will then adjudicate on whether the request is reasonable or not.
If an end-user believes the cost estimate for providing access is excessive, this can be subject to eir’s complaint handling process.
Where there is (i) no in-situ connection (ii) no alternative infrastructure provider; and (iii) no alternative service, then a fixed cellular solution is likely to be the most efficient and cost-effective method of meeting these reasonable access requests.
It remains the responsibility of eir, as the USP, to verify that there is an equivalent service available at the end-user’s location.
It is important to note that the existence of alternative infrastructure may not be sufficient, in and of itself, to ensure the availability of an equivalent service. Alternative infrastructure providers may not offer equivalent service.
ComReg had previously set binding annual USO quality of service performance targets for connections and these targets were part of eir’s universal service obligation. The most recent obligation was set out in Decision D02/19 which came to an end on 30 June 2021 and has not been replaced.
However, in its recent AFL USO Decision (D09/21), ComReg stated that it will continue to monitor eir’s QoS performance on an ongoing basis, in line with its regulatory functions. ComReg considers that QoS is an important aspect of AFL and it is important that the QoS performance is maintained.
The annual performance targets for connections, which eir is no longer obliged to meet but will continue to be monitored against, are split between in-situ connections and all other connections.
‘In-situ connections’ do not require a call out to the premises as the activation of the line is carried out remotely. In line with Eir’s policy statement, it should take no more than a working day to activate such a request for connection. ComReg has set the following targets:
For all other connections, a call out to the premises is necessary and may involve making an appointment with the customer requesting a connection. The time taken to complete the connection will vary depending on the level of work involved and whether consents from road and planning authorities and private landowners are necessary. ComReg has set the following targets:
Quality of service performance in relation to these targets is published quarterly by us by way of an Information Notice and eir also publishes performance on its website at www.eir.ie/regulatoryinformation/quality-of-service/
You can also find out more by visiting the publications section of the ComReg website www.comreg.ie/publications/ and search under ‘Publication Category’ type “Quality of Service”.
Eir, at times, relies on third party intervention when installing lines. These can include permission from local authorities such as county councils when requiring road opening and closing.
ComReg has decided (D12/20) that a public payphone universal service obligation and associated designation, post 31 December 2020, is not necessary in light of the existence of public voice telephony access points and future commercial plans for those access points to satisfy the reasonable needs for such service at this time
Having regard to the changing conditions in the electronic communications market, including alternative services to the printed phonebook directory, evolving end-user behaviour, the level of end-user demand for the on request printed phonebook directory in 2019 and the existing regulations in place, ComReg has decided (Decision D07/20) that there is no longer a need for the imposition of a directory of subscribers USO or the designation of a USP.
 An “equivalent service” means a connection and a standalone PATS, or bundle, which is equivalent to that prevailing for access at a fixed location provided by the eir, with respect to quality of service, minimum indoor availability, and affordability. A “bundle” means grouping a fixed voice service and fixed broadband service as a package.