BT faces EC wrath over local-loop unbundling

Competition chief takes aim at the delaying tactics of incumbent operators, and warns that the European Commission could take action

BT could face intervention from the European Commission if an inquiry into local-loop unbundling (LLU) concludes that the telco has attempted to hamper the efforts of other telecoms companies to provide ADSL services.

Mario Monti, the European Commissioner for Competition Policy, is unimpressed by the slow pace of LLU across the Union. The Commission is currently working on an enquiry into the issue, and Monti has warned that some incumbent telecoms companies are unfairly launching their own broadband services, while making it hard for other operators to launch rival services.

"In spite of an active supervision by national regulatory agencies, telecom incumbents are delaying as much as they can the delivery of unbundled lines, which is extremely slow, or proposing non-competitive access conditions and procedures," warned Monti in a speech to the UBS Warburg conference in Barcelona last week.

"This is a serious matter of concern since they are at the same time taking advantage of their control of the local loop to roll out their new ADSL broadband services," he added.

The EU inquiry is expected to publish its conclusions before the end of 2001.

The "local loop" is the part of the telecoms network between local exchanges and individual houses and offices. "Unbundling" refers to the process where rival telecoms service providers can place their own equipment within the exchange, allowing them to offer services such as high-speed Internet access to consumers.

Both BT and Oftel, the UK's telecoms regulator, recently faced heavy criticism from a select committee of parliament for the slow pace of local-loop unbundling in the UK. Martin O'Neill MP, head of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, accused Oftel of being complacent and reactive, and said the watchdog had let consumers down.

Oftel has admitted that LLU could have been handled better. "BT could have moved faster with local-loop unbundling, but it has basically behaved like any incumbent operator," a spokesman told ZDNet News.

Oftel is responsible for regulating LLU in the UK, but warned that it can only take action when problems are brought to its attention. "Local-loop unbundling is very technical, and in regulatory terms we're breaking new ground," the spokesman said.

The most recent figures for LLU showed that a mere 163 residential lines had been made available by BT to other operators.

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