Tuesday, 6 March 2007
Dáil Eireann Debate
144. Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on whether the service provided by broadband, cable television and telephone providers requires customer support as part of the package; if he receives reports from the National Consumer Agency regarding service from suppliers of these services; if he has considered seeking amendments to the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980, specifically in relation to the definition of service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5172/07]
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin): The regulation of telecommunications, televisual and broadband service providers is one of the functions of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) established under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 (No. 20 of 2002). I understand that although ComReg regulates providers of electronic communications services and networks, including broadcasting transmission networks, it has no role in the regulation of the delivery of broadcasting services at retail level.  While Cable and Satellite operators must be authorised by ComReg to operate in Ireland, the EU Regulatory Framework for electronic communications (transposed in 2003) specifically excluded the regulation of retail broadcasting services, as distinct from the distribution network.
The Communications Regulation Act 2002 is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. However, ComReg has statutory independence in the exercise of its functions.
Notwithstanding, the foregoing, I am aware that the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs has received a considerable number of complaints in relation to the quality of service provided by a number of operators in the telecommunications sector. In this regard, I am aware that both the ODCA and the NCA have been active in articulating customer concerns in the telecommunications area over the past twelve months. I am advised that the ODCA and the NCA have had a number of meetings with ComReg in relation to these concerns and that they both played an active role in a colloquium organised by ComReg in November 2006 with the telecommunications service providers in raising awareness of their responsibilities under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, the Distance Selling Regulations and the Doorstep Selling Regulations.
I am advised that the Director also held bilateral discussions with one leading telecommunications provider because of the number of complaints received by her office in relation to the level of service being provided to customers. Arising from those discussions, I understand that the provider concerned has put in place a number of measures, including increasing the staffing numbers in its customer help call centres, to address the difficulties being experienced by customers. The Director has informed me that her Office will continue to impress on telecommunications providers the need to ensure that customer support is an integral part of the service that they provide.
The Deputy may be aware that the Consumer Protection Bill, which is currently at Committee Stage in the Dail, will establish the National Consumer Agency on a statutory basis. The Agency will be empowered under the Bill to enter into formal agreements with regulatory bodies such as ComReg for the purpose of facilitating co-operation between the Agency and the regulatory body in the performance of their respective functions in so far as they relate to issues of consumer protection and welfare. This provision will allow the Agency to formally bring issues of consumer concern such as those raised in the Deputy’s question to the attention of bodies such as ComReg.
The enactment of the Consumer Protection Bill will mark the first phase in a root and branch review of Ireland’s consumer protection laws. The second phase of this review, which has already begun, will include a review of the law governing consumer contracts including, in particular, the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980. Issues relating to service, standards of service and customer redress in relation to instances of poor service will feature prominently in the review.
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