Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
947. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps taken by the mobile telephone service providers and landline service providers to ease access to complaints, payment of bills or other administrative changes during the Covid-19 crisis; if urgent arrangements will be put in place to ensure the availability of a person other than automated systems to deal with urgent inquires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6878/20]
948. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if arrangements have been made by his Department and broadband service providers to improve broadband services for customers required to work from home due to Covid-19 restrictions and living in areas of limited access to broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6879/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 947 and 948 together.
I recognise how vital telecommunications services are to citizens for so many aspects of their daily lives, including remote working, studying and staying in touch with family members during the Covid-19 crisis. I and my officials are also very focussed on the need to ensure that telecommunications customers are sympathetically treated at this very challenging time. In that regard, officials from my Department have been engaging intensively with ComReg and with telecommunications industry.
As the Deputy may be aware, I recently signed regulations enabling ComReg to release additional rights of use for radio spectrum on a temporary basis. This will provide flexibility for mobile network operators to create additional capacity for mobile phone and broadband services and accommodate the increased demand at this time.
In addition, on 15th of April 2020, I announced that all major telecommunications providers have committed to a number of measures to help people stay in touch, study and work from home during Covid 19 including:
1. Any fixed broadband customers who do not have unlimited usage already as standard will be given the opportunity, if they require, to upgrade their package (which may be on a temporary basis), with their current service provider.
2. Any customer who does not have fixed broadband and who relies solely on mobile access to the Internet will have the opportunity to avail of affordable unlimited mobile data access/package from their service provider.
3. Fair usage policies will not be automatically applied to unlimited fixed and mobile data packages.
4. Service providers may implement appropriate permitted traffic management measures to avoid network congestion.
5. Access to healthcare and educational resource websites identified by the Government will be zero-rated for all customers where technically feasible.
6. So that customers can remain connected during the crisis, service providers will engage with any customer that contacts them who is in financial difficulty as a result of Covid-19 and has difficulty paying their bills to agree the best way of keeping them connected to voice and data.
7. Service Providers will work with ComReg in the event of complaints raised to ComReg by consumers, who consider they are not being treated in accordance with these commitments.
In addition to these measures, o perators have also independently implemented further supports for consumers, with a number of operators recently announcing a range of packages providing unlimited data with one operator removing all limits on calls, text and data.
Telecommunications service providers, are regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), which operates independently of my Department. The telecommunications regulatory framework which ComReg implements, requires each provider to establish and operate a code of practice, including requirements for complaint handling. Service Providers must implement these measures, at a minimum, to assist consumers (including businesses) when they need to contact them with a complaint. A copy of the code of practice, which includes the three ways in which consumers can contact service providers, can be accessed at: .Any operator failing to comply with any of these requirements is a matter to be pursued by ComReg.
In relation to the use of automated services, the majority of operators use an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to route calls to the relevant customer support area. Many of the IVRs also advise on the current call waiting times. The majority of operators also offer on-line and web chat functions for speedy resolution of standard queries, in addition to non- automated query handling as appropriate.
As mentioned above, Service Providers have committed to engaging with any customer that contacts them who is in financial difficulty as a result of Covid-19 and has difficulty paying their bills to agree the best way of keeping them connected to voice and data. Furthermore, Service Providers have also committed to working with ComReg in the event of complaints raised to ComReg by consumers, who consider they are not being treated in accordance with Covid-19 commitments.