Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Cecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing this Adjournment debate. I appreciate the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, who is taking this on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
This issue might not be pertinent to everybody but it is pertinent to all those who live in Ulster and it impacts on other people from time to time. For a long time, if I put my mobile telephone on the television in my kitchen, the signal was picked up by UK Cellnet and every time I received a call, I was charged €1.50 per minute in the good old days of proper roaming charges. I accept many of the operators now offer packages such as Vodafone Passport through which such charges are eliminated. If I have such a package, I can receive a call in the North, Donegal, Dundalk, on the train or in the car without incurring an additional charge. I can make a call without paying an international premium now also. However, I have a gripe, which is as serious a gripe as anyone can have. If Vodafone Ireland were to have coverage of the island of Ireland we would not have a problem. My price plan entailing 100, 200 or 750 minutes would be fine because it would cover me on the island of Ireland.
I am picking Vodafone as an entity with which I am acquainted as opposed to suggesting it is different from other providers. My difficulty is that if I am in an area either in the Republic or in the North where there is no Vodafone coverage then I need to choose another supplier, in many cases Vodafone UK, for example. I may only use 600 minutes out of my 750 minutes in a month, but I might use 100 minutes in the Vodafone UK area. I am then charged per minute for those calls. As a person who buys a package I should have the right to have a package that embraces my needs as a consumer.
Much work is ongoing in an attempt to eliminate international tariffs and to have common tariffs throughout Europe. I raise the issue to get an update on the status of the generality of the European project — the equalisation across Europe of charges. I know that pertains to people leaving here and going on holidays anywhere. The Vodafone terms and conditions stipulate:
Any bundle minutes included in the eligible Pay Monthly price plans cannot be used whilst roaming. Whilst customers on the eligible Pay Monthly plans making a call back to Ireland will receive their normal out of bundle domestic rates as split by peak/off-peak and on-net/off-net, prepay customers will receive the on-net rates as split by peak and off-peak only.
In other words if I am in the North, Vodafone does not consider it Ireland and therefore I will get charged.
While I could have got numerous people in Donegal to say this, I found the following anonymous postings on the Internet:
I notice this when I am in Dundalk, whichever way the wind blows I suppose, you could be on Orange, Vodafone or T Mobile UK . . . It is a nuisance . . . People living on borders in any country must really be fed up with this.
I live just outside Dundalk about three miles from the Border and my phone is constantly changing over to the UK networks.
I understand it is possible to turn a phone to manual and choose not to do that. It took me a few years to discover that, which cost me a fortune. If a service provider cannot provide a service where it should be providing a service, there should be a link within the company in the UK or Ireland to ensure the customer is not at a loss for that.
I know that the former Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey, said that the abolition of what he described as unfair charges would help encourage an all-Ireland approach to business. We talk about the cost of electricity, gas and rents. For me communication charges are central for business. Speaking not as a businessperson but as an ordinary citizen I would like to see the service providers moving further and faster in driving the agenda of an all-Ireland and all-Europe tariff. It seems that Irish consumers are being fleeced by the organisations, but that may not be parliamentary language. We seem to be exploited to a level that is different from those in any other country.