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From...

Irish telecom market opens to competition

December 7, 1998
Web posted at: 11:30 AM EST

by Kristi Essick

PARIS (IDG) -- The Irish telecommunications market officially opened for competition last week when the country's telecom regulator awarded 29 operators new licenses.

The licenses, the majority of which allow the operators to offer a wide range of voice and data services, "herald a fast transition to an era where consumers are offered the best possible telecoms services at an affordable price," said Etain Doyle, director of telecommunications regulation for Ireland, in a statement.

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After initially having been given until January 2000 to open up its market under the World Trade Organization telecommunications pact, the Irish government decided to push the deadline ahead to Dec. 1, 1998 earlier this year, said a spokesman for the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulations (ODTR).

The licenses granted under the new scheme include 21 "general" licenses, granting operators the right to offer voice as well as data services to the general public, and eight "basic" licenses, which allow operators to offer data services, but not voice. Holders of basic licenses can choose to apply for a general license at any time, should they want to expand their services, ODTR said.

Some of the telecommunications companies awarded licenses include the state-controlled incumbent Telecom Eireann, as well as competitors such as Esat Telecommunications and Ocean Communications, a joint venture between British Telecommunications and Ireland's power utility Electricity Supply Board. British operator Cable & Wireless was also granted a license.

Most of the operators that received licenses already offer communication services in Ireland in some respect, most often as value-added services to the corporate market. But the licenses will give the operators freedom to expand services to the general public.

Esat Telecom last week announced a new residential voice service that it says will be cheaper overall than Telecom Eireann's rates. Called Esat Clear, the service became available on Monday. Some of the features that Esat are promoting include a one-rate call charge for calls anywhere in the Republic and Northern Ireland, as well as automatic discounts when users spend over 35 punts (US$51.45) each month.

Meanwhile, the incumbent announced its own plans to compete outside of the Republic of Ireland, by setting up a subsidiary in Northern Ireland. Dubbed Telecom Ireland, the subsidiary will offer telecommunications services to the corporate and residential markets in the region, Telecom Eireann said in a release. The company's strategy, like many other incumbent telcos facing competition in their home markets for the first time, is to expand into foreign markets in order to prop up falling revenues in other areas, it said.

Kristi Essick is Senior European Correspondent for the IDG News Service.

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