Oftel allows operators to snoop on BT

Operators can investigate BT's claims there is no room at the inn, says Oftel

Operators who have said BT (quote: BT) is deliberately obstructing access to its exchanges were given a major victory Thursday as Oftel told the telco it is acting unreasonably. Independent experts will now be allowed to enter BT's exchanges to assess whether BT's claims over inadequate space, are truthful.

If they are not, the telco will be forced to pay compensation.

The regulator is determined to improve its handling of BT, following bitter criticism over its handling of local loop unbundling. Local loop unbundling will allow other operators to put equipment in BT's telephone exchanges and is widely regarded as an essential move to open up the telcoms market in the UK.

Operators have complained to Oftel that BT is deliberately dragging its heels over unbundling and have rubbished BT's claim there is not enough room in its exchanges as mere excuse. Now Oftel is allowing them to send snoops into BT's exchanges in what will be viewed as its toughest attack on the telco yet. "Operators asked Oftel to set contract terms and conditions and that does include allowing operators to call on experts," confirms an Oftel spokesman.

So does this mean that Oftel doesn't believe BT? "We absolutely don't think it is fair enough that BT should say there is not enough space and that is that," the spokesman says.

In the recent past the watchdog has come to blows with the government over the issue of rolling out Internet services in the UK. Director general David Edmonds has been hauled in front of a government select committee to explain Oftel's dealings with BT and admitted that the telco has engaged in "trench warfare" in its dealings with other operators.

While the European parliament has agreed unbundled services should be available in January 2001 BT is claiming it will not be technically possible until July of that year. Now it would seem Oftel is determined to push this forward. "We are pleased that BT has committed to no less than having 600 exchanges unbundled by July but we are hoping that figure will grow. We expect farther improvements," the spokeswoman says.

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