Isle of Man Ponders Social Broadband Tariffs as Manx Telecom Face USO Pressure

Members of the Parliament of the Isle of Man (Tynwald) have backed calls for the Communications and Utilities Regulatory Authority (CURA) to introduce a low-cost social tariff for vulnerable broadband users (e.g. unemployed people). Separately, Manx Telecom are being accused of “non-compliance with Universal Service Obligations“.

Social Tariffs are today somewhat of a normal thing in the UK. The related packages tend to cost around £15 per month and provide an entry-level style broadband and / or phone service to those on certain state benefits – see our Guide to UK Social Tariffs, which helps to tackle digital exclusion. But the same can’t be said for the Isle of Man.

NOTE: The Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. The picture above is of the island’s largest settlement, Douglas Bay.

Admittedly, broadband ISP and mobile operator Manx Telecom do offer a Low User Choice Tariff, but this is only a basic home phone solution, which isn’t available to those with a broadband service. But according to the BBC News, Tynwald members are now pushing for true Social Tariffs to be introduced, pending further research to help establish how much need for them actually exists (c.10% of people on the island are currently classed as “digitally excluded“) and what kind of solution(s) should be included.

However, Alex Allinson MHK warned the parliament that it should be “wary” of the potential “ramifications“, such as “in terms of the general population and the overall cost of internet services if we try to carve out some specific groups Tynwald think are more worthy than others“. The argument has echoes of when BT warned that social tariffs in the UK may eventually become unsustainable (here), although not everybody shares that view.

The CURA has indicated that more consultation will be required before a decision can be made, although they don’t “foresee any issues in implementing this proposal in principle.”

A USO Headache for Manx Telecom

Separately, CURA recently launched an investigation into Manx Telecom’s “alleged non-compliance” with its Universal Service Obligations (USO) for telecoms services. On the Isle of Man, the USO is intended to ensure that Manx consumers can access telephony services regardless of which communications provider they subscribe to for other services, while also ensuring that all consumers pay fair, uniform prices for their service.

CURA’s Notice of Investigation (Extract)

The Communications and Utilities Regulatory Authority (the Authority) has received information that would lead it to believe that an investigation is required as to whether Manx Telecom is meeting its Universal Service Obligations (USO) as required in its Licence.

In particular, it has been alleged to the Authority that:

• Manx Telecom charges broadband customers of other service providers a higher price for telephony services than it does for Manx Telecom’s own customers;

• Manx Telecom requires broadband customers of other service providers to install components for telephony services that it does not require its own customers to install; and,

• Manx Telecom is advising its own customers that they cannot switch broadband providers and retain a telephony service with Manx Telecom.

At this stage, it’s unclear how long the investigation will take to reach a conclusion.

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