CICRA - Misunderstood or Misguided?

The Channel Islands Competition and Regulatory Authorities have had their fair share of criticism levelled at them. The high profile failure in the Jersey Royal Court regarding its decision that ATF Fuels had abused its position in the aviation fuel market, led to a legal bill of at least half a million pounds, calls for the watchdog to be overhauled and is now the subject of a government review by a top UK lawyer. Business Brief Editor, Gwyn Garfield-Bennett went to meet CICRA chief executive, Michael Byrne, legal director, Sarah Livestro, and directors, Louise Read and Tim Ringsdore.

The Channel Islands Competition and Regulatory Authorities have had their fair share of criticism levelled at them.  Comprised of the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority and the Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority, CICRA’s responsibilities are the administration and enforcement of competition law across the Channel Islands, as well as the economic regulation of the telecoms, ports and postal sectors in Jersey and telecoms sector in Guernsey.

The high profile failure in the Jersey Royal Court regarding its decision that ATF Fuels had abused its position in the aviation fuel market, led to a legal bill of at least half a million pounds, calls for the watchdog to be overhauled and is now the subject of a government review by a top UK lawyer. It was the fourth time the regulator had lost a Royal Court appeal. It also isn’t the only criticism, in 2015 the Jersey government commissioned a report by Oxera into the JCRA and while it highlighted the challenges of encouraging competition in small jurisdictions, it also raised several issues. 

Part of the reason why CICRA was created was to look into the telecoms industry and end the monopoly situation that was deemed to exist. Not surprisingly therefore, telecoms takes up a fair amount of CICRA’s time and recent hire, Tim Ringsdore, who was managing director at JT, highlights the sector’s importance. 

Past criticism has been that you’ve looked at the wrong kind of things with telecoms in the past. 

Michael: ‘As far as areas of focus, bear in mind people expressing views about what matters can sometimes have a vested interest in why they don’t want us to look at things. The fact is the areas that we look at we look at based on prioritisation principles. We don’t randomly look at areas. We look at areas either because people have identified them as a concern or there’s a wider industry issue.’ 

Tim:  ‘Policies have definitely helped in terms of focus, in terms of what the governments are expecting in both islands and they’re very clear. There are some operators that wouldn’t want us to look at certain things because of commerciality but our remit is to look at it and make sure that at the end of the day we get the best solution for the consumers in the island.

‘In broadband for instance, we’ve just done a broadband review to get feedback from the operators to find out what’s working for them and what’s not working for them, that’s across the Channel islands. So that consultation has just been completed and we are now assessing the feedback that we had from the various operators and once we’ve looked at what their responses are we’ll make some decisions as to whether we need to make any recommendations in terms of change to make sure there’s a fair wholesale solution there for other operators to work on a retail basis on both islands.’

Is it difficult because, for example, you’ve looked at a lot of JT related issues but without them putting investment into the network, then that investment wouldn’t happen?  

Tim: ‘All operators have made significant investment, especially in the mobile sector. We’re not here to stop investment we’re here to work with the operators and hopefully encourage them to do so and take that pragmatic approach and engage with the operators much more, which we’re doing; and trying to understand the challenges they face and obviously working within the policy direction the governments want to take us in.’

Michael: ‘It’s doubtful whether you would have had an alternative mobile operator choice if it wasn’t for the competition authority, It’s doubtful that customers would have had choice in broadband, in terms of also line rental, in terms of businesses private circuits, it’s really doubtful that others would have been able to enter the market unless you had a body like a competition authority that requires someone like JT to open their system so they can provide services.’

Read the full article in September's edition