Dáil Éireann - Volume 638 - 26 September, 2007

Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will bring forward legislation to protect consumers in the communications sector when telecoms operators break their service contracts and customers are left for hours, days or weeks with no services that they have already paid for with no redress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20556/07]

  Deputy Eamon Ryan:Primary responsibility for consumer protection falls within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the National Consumer Agency.

A function of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, is the investigation of complaints from consumers in relation to the supply of, and access to, electronic communications networks, electronic communications services and associated facilities. ComReg also has an objective to promote the interests of users [716] of these services within the European Community.

Under the EU Framework Regulations, ComReg shall, where appropriate, consult and cooperate with the Director of Consumer Affairs on matters of common interest in connection with the protection of consumer interests. I am informed by ComReg that discussions are ongoing between both parties at present with a view to the development of a memorandum of understanding on the matter.

Deputy Richard Brutonasked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to companies making unsolicited approaches, via text selling services which automatically bill the customer even if they do not accept; if he has satisfied himself that Irish or EU legislation is sufficiently robust to prevent consumer rip-off by these operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20604/07]

  Deputy Eamon Ryan:Responsibility for the regulation of the content and promotion of premium rate telecommunications services, including subscription-based services, is a matter for the Regulator of Premium Rate Telecommunications Services Limited (Regtel), an independent self-regulatory body. Regtel does not report to me as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The area of consumer protection within which Regtel operate, falls mainly under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and the National Consumer Agency.

Should consumers be targeted by unsolicited electronic communications for direct marketing purposes, they should contact the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner who has strong investigatory and prosecution powers in this area. The Data Protection Commission is an independent State body, under the remit of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has responsibility for the implementation of the regulations controlling the sending of unsolicited electronic communications for direct marketing purposes.

It is now illegal within the EU to target individuals/natural persons by unsolicited means. Unsolicited communications for the purpose of direct marketing, with a limited exception covering existing customer relationships, is only allowed with prior consent. EU Directive 2002/58/EC the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, transposed into Irish Law on 6 November 2003 via the Electronic Communications (Electronic Communications Networks and Services)(Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 535 of 2003) provide for restrictions on unsolicited direct mar[717] keting by telephone, fax, automated calling systems, email, SMS and MMS. Monitoring compliance with and enforcement of the provisions of the regulations is a function of the Data Protection Commissioner.