Furious BT loses battle over local exchange access

Despite security concerns, Oftel has ruled that rival operators are allowed unsupervised access to BT's local exchanges

Industry watchdog Oftel ruled on Thursday that rival operators can have unescorted access to BT's local exchanges to access their equipment, despite strong objections from the telco.

The decision means that an operator who has installed equipment in a local exchange in order to provide broadband services won't need to be chaperoned by a BT official. According to Oftel, this means that operators won't be subject to unnecessary costs. BT is understood to be extremely angry about the ruling, and the implication that it was trying to hold up the local loop unbundling process.

Companies such as Bulldog Communications, which plans to sell wholesale broadband services in competition with BT Wholesale, have complained that paying a fee to BT every time they wanted to check their equipment would be a significant and unjustified expense.

BT complained that it would be a security risk if staff from other companies had unsupervised access to its local exchanges, but Oftel has rejected its concerns. "Oftel has decided that approved staff working for an operator must be treated in exactly the same way as an approved contractor working for BT," said Oftel director general David Edmonds in a statement released on Thursday.

"Operators' staff will be able to have unescorted access to any BT exchange, unless escorted access is required for BT's own contractors. These arrangements will not jeopardise the security at BT's exchanges or of the wider telecoms network," Edmonds added.

Oftel provisionally ruled in favour of unescorted third-party access back in October, but invited comments from interested parties. It became clear late last month that while BT strongly opposed the idea, rival LLU operators were all in favour.

As an appeal isn't possible, BT will have to accept Oftel's ruling. "We look after the central nervous system of the UK's communications network, and it is vital that its security is maintained. We'll have to work to ensure this," said a BT spokesman.

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