Home Knowledge Proposals to regulate text and phone line services

Proposals to regulate text and phone line services

The Minister for Communications has introduced proposals to regulate premium rate services in the telecommunications sector. Examples of premium rate services are text competitions, sport updates and prescription services. If enacted, the proposed legislation will end self-regulation in the sector by appointing ComReg (the body responsible for the regulation of the electronic communications sector) as the regulatory body instead of Regtel.

Regtel is currently the independent regulator of the content and promotion of Premium Rate Services. All providers must notify Regtel before commencing a premium rate service and must then abide by a code of practice. Although most providers do abide by the code of practice, certain practices in the industry and the level of dissatisfaction amongst consumers have prompted the Government to tighten up the rules.

The proposals introduce some major changes including a mandatory licensing regime for parties intending to provide certain premium rate services, which are to be specified by ComReg. ComReg may refuse to grant a licence for various reasons including where inadequate information is provided or where an applicant has been convicted of overcharging or for operating without a licence. ComReg will also have the power to revoke, amend or suspend a licence. Operating without a licence will be an offence punishable by fines of up to €250,000.

The proposals also give ComReg responsibility for introducing a new code of practice for the industry, after consultation with relevant bodies and interested parties. Failure to follow the code of practice could result in revocation of a licence.

The proposals are designed to protect consumers and in particular the more vulnerable elderly and child consumers who can easily be attracted to premium rate services. With this in mind, the proposals create a separate offence of overcharging punishable by fines of up to €5,000 and/or revocation of a provider’s licence.

The proposals are still at the early stages of the legislative process. However, it is important for stakeholders to be aware of the features of the proposed regime and for service providers to assess the implications of the developments in the sector for their businesses.