Oftel backtracks on unbundling timetable

Oftel claims Monday a July 2001 timetable for local loop unbundling is "the best we can do".

Local loop unbundling -- in which BT is forced to open its exchanges to other operators -- is widely seen as key to introducing real competition into the UK Internet access market. Both the European Commission and the UK's own chancellor Brown have called for unbundling timetables to be moved forward. The EC recommends European encumbent operators should have unbundled their local loops by December 2000.

Following Gordon Brown's remarks, both the telco and the watchdog showed willingness to move the timetable forward but Oftel now seems to be backtracking on this. "July is the best we can do. July 2001 is seen as a competitive date and a good target for BT to meet. It will have to work hard to meet it," an Oftel spokesman says. So does the watchdog not agree with the European Commission's recommendations for unbundling to be complete by the end of this year? "We have done our best," the spokesman offers.

Labour MP and head of the all-party Internet group Derek Wyatt is outraged. "I think it is very, very disappointing," he says, calling on government to appoint an independent examiner to look at bringing the date forward. "The public demands unbundling as soon as possible. Tomorrow isn't soon enough." Wyatt claims July 2000 would be a realistic date.

Richard Woods, spokesman for business ISP UUNet, confesses he is "confused of Cambridge". We are confused, everyone is confused. We are in Oftel's hands to a degree and Oftel has a problem in how to get best advantage out of BT," he says.

According to a DTI spokesman, the government is happy with the July deadline. "Everyone is happy with July 2001 as a practical deadline although the government would love to see it brought forward," he claims.

On Friday Oftel published the framework for unbundling and revealed the Director General David Edmonds will himself set the price for unbundled services. Oftel aims to publish a figure for this next month.

Tony Westbrook advises BT to 'Free the local loop' at AnchorDesk UK. Go and read the news comment there.

Guy Kewney thinks BT is simply making excuses. Go to AnchorDesk UK for his opinion and the news comment.

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