EC to investigate broadband rollouts

European Commission steps in as unbundling fails to take off across Europe

The European Commission has launched an investigation into the way incumbent telcos are opening up their exchanges to other operators in the light of complaints about the process.

Local loop unbundling -- as the process is called -- has long been feted by the EC as a way out of the stranglehold that incumbent telcos like BT and Deutsche Telekom have on telephone lines and by extension, Internet services across Europe.

The research, expected to be completed next month, will track the progress member states have made on unbundling. "We want gently to make member states realise that it has to be implemented as soon as possible," says a spokesman for the Information Society Commissioner Erkki Likanen.

The EC has campaigned long and hard for unbundled services to be up and running by January of this year but few countries have actually stayed on track. The timetable brought the EC into direct conflict with Oftel, which initially claimed no services would be available until the summer.

Oftel has since backtracked on that timetable and is attempting to open up exchanges as quickly as possible. Last week it outlined details of how BT should deal with the lack of space in its exchanges -- one of the burning issues of UK unbundling. "Oftel expects BT to be able to find space for operators equipment in most exchanges. Where there is insufficeint space inside an exchange, BT should provide space on its land adjacent to the exchange so that operators can install cabinets or other facilities to install equipment," said Oftel's director general David Edmonds in a statement.

Despite its new hard line on BT, Oftel has so far only opened up three sites -- in Battersea, Edinburgh and Belfast -- to other operators. Earlier in the year nine key players withdrew from the process and doubts still hang over how economically viable unbundling is for BT's rivals.

The EC intends to present the results of its research at the beginning of next month.

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