ISPA heralds new age of Net competition

Net service providers call for BT to roll out wholesale unmetered access package 'without delay'

ISPA welcomed Oftel's decision to end BT's (quote: BT) monopoly of the Internet market Thursday but urged the telco to comply with Oftel's demands "without delay".

Last week the telecoms watchdog ordered BT to offer a wholesale alternative to SurfTime, its flat-rate Internet access package, following complaints from rival telco MCI WorldCom. In effect this will open up BT's fiercely guarded local network to other operators, allowing them to compete equally with BT in delivering unmetered Internet services. (The situation does not affect high-speed, or "broadband" services such as ADSL.)

With local loop unbundling -- due next summer -- offering the same opportunity for broadband, the telecommunications industry is confident that a new era of competition has arrived for the UK Internet market. "This landmark decision is a crucial step towards ensuring that ISPs in the UK market can provide innovative unmetered services to compete with the launch of BTs SurfTime product," said Clare Gilbert, chairman of ISPA (Internet Service Providers' Association).

However ISPA is concerned Oftel's proviso that BT be given "reasonable time" to implement the new service could mean BT's SurfTime will gain an unfair competitive advantage. Gilbert called for BT to get its act together swiftly. "It is now incumbent upon BT to deliver its wholesale unmetered product to competitors without delay," she said.

The alternative service -- in which operators will pay BT a flat rate fee of £424 a year for leasing lines -- is due to be made available from Thursday, but BT will not guarantee service right away. "I'd have thought it very unlikely," said a BT spokesman. "Mechanisms need to be put in place and that is not something you can do instantly."

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