ISPs wary of BT's network upgrade plans

BT is coming under pressure from ISPs over its plans to build a better backbone network for the UK

A body representing many of the UK's ISPs has warned that BT should be prevented from monopolising the UK's telecoms market through its forthcoming 21st Century Network (21CN) .

The Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) has told communications regulator Ofcom that it must ensure there is free competition in the UK's telecoms market as BT and other telcos build improved network for carrying voice and data.

Many telcos are keen to build next-generation networks (NGNs), but ISPA is cautious about BT's ambitious plans for 21CN, which could bring broadband and voice-over-IP services to the whole UK.

"ISPA believes Ofcom's role should be to ensure that there is clarity to the regulatory principles and policies necessary to support effective competition with the introduction of NGN services," said Jessica Hendrie-Liaño, head of the ISPA Council. "A competitive industry is a healthy industry, and one we must strive to achieve."

The rollout of NGNs will see today's public switched telephone networks replaced with IP-based data networks. Although BT hasn't yet said exactly how 21CN will interact with other networks, ISPA said that the telco needs to ensure competition is built into 21CN at the start.

"[ISPs] have made significant investments based on the current access and interconnection arrangements, so many will lose out in the short term. But ultimately competitive NGNs are likely to benefit all providers and customers," said Hendrie-Liaño.

Lindsey Annison, broadband campaigner and co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, is also concerned about the 21CN project.

"When the 21st Century network is built, you'll still have a network owned by a company that's responsible to its shareholders," Annison told ZDNet UK, warning that 21CN could perpetuate BT's dominant position in the UK telecoms sector and won't aid competition.

BT, though, insists that it will design 21CN in a way that will ensure that services can be delivered competitively.

"NGNS will be built by others as well as by BT. There will be competition between networks themselves and in the services that communications providers supply over them. And where competition is effective it will be market forces, and not regulation, which determines behaviour and outcomes," said BT in a statement.

Where competition is not effective the regulator will carry out a market review, and if it is found that significant market power is held a remedy will be defined. If that remedy requires a wholesale service, one of the conditions associated with its supply may well be that equality of access is required. Wherever that is the case BT will certainly ensure that it is delivered. Our expectation is that formal obligations of this sort will diminish over time as competition becomes increasingly effective," the telco added.

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