Under-fire regulator points out savings
ACTION taken by the island’s regulatory body has saved households more than £6.7m. in conveyancing fees since 2012, its chief executive has said, as he defended the organisation’s ‘vital and diverse role informing and protecting consumers’.
The Channel Islands Competition and Regulatory Authorities has come under fire in Jersey, with businesses lobbying against the body, a vote of no confidence from the politician responsible for its creation and accusations that it is has ‘gotten too big for its boots’.
Cicra’s chief executive Michael Byrne said the regulator’s actions had benefitted islanders in a number of ways and it planned to be at the heart of all discussions around the roll out of 5G mobile services, improvements in broadband and the effective enforcement of the competition law in the year ahead.
As of December 2016, Cicra’s role in ending set price conveyancing fees had saved Guernsey households £6.7m.
Mr Byrne also said its pressure on telecoms operators had led to higher broadband speeds, the smooth roll-out of 4G services and a reduction in roaming charges from £3.99 at the start of 2017 to 19p/MB now.
Sure, JT and Airtel were all asked for comment on the role of the regulator.
Chris Durnell, director of legal & regulatory affairs at Sure, said it was ‘broadly supportive of Cicra’s role’
‘Sure believes that it is important to have an independent and credible pan-Channel Islands regulator who can apply regulation where needed in a consistent and transparent manner.
‘Cicra plays a key part in ensuring that there’s a level playing field for all competitors so consumers can benefit from fair competition, and this is especially important when one of the main competitors is States-owned.
‘Cicra does need to make sure that it only regulates where the evidence clearly supports the need for it to act, and that it does so using the correct regulatory processes as set out in the relevant laws and its own formal guidelines.
‘To act otherwise, can open the regulator’s decisions to legal action, which in turn, increases the cost of regulation for everyone, including consumers.
Ms Durnell said its was Sure’s belief that the regulator should focus on the specific needs of its own jurisdiction and not assume that models or decisions used in larger markets, such as the UK, should be applied in the Channel Islands.
‘We have a small population and this means that effective regulation has to be proportionate and appropriate for our small markets,’ she said.
‘Sure wants islanders to receive the best possible value from their telecoms services and effective regulation is key to making this possible.
‘We look forward to continuing to work with Cicra in a cooperative spirit for as long as we believe that it is operating fairly, transparently and consistently across all of our islands,’ she said.
Mr Byrne said that while Cicra plays a ‘vital role informing and protecting consumers’, the regulator was not as effective as it could be.
‘Cicra has communicated to the States of Jersey and Guernsey the need to review aspects of the merger and acquisitions law and those recommendations were most recently made by Cicra in October 2016,’ he said.
‘Cicra has also sought law changes to introduce what are referred to as “block exemptions” which sought to provide greater certainty to businesses where certain arrangements between potential competitors can be pro-competitive and deliver net benefits to consumers which don’t need to concern a competition authority like Cicra.’
One of Cicra’s major open cases is a review into whether the Blue Islands/Flybe franchise agreement had violated competition law which is ongoing, 14 months after it was first launched.
Cicra’s Broadband price control review, launched back in December 2016, is also yet to be concluded.
Mr Byrne defended that timescale, saying an independent report found the duration of its investigations to be ‘in line with international practice’.
‘Both the investigations referred to above are substantial workstreams, involving a wide range of issues and evidence that must be evaluated using due process as
required by law,’ he said.
‘Competition cases by their nature require consideration of a range of evidence and in the specific case of the franchise review the parties requested a significant extension to providing information which was reasonable and agreed to. In the case of the broadband review, such reviews in other countries take several years, so Cicra compares extremely favourably given the nature of the issues.’