Oftel forces BT to co-mingle for ADSL

The watchdog says BT must give rival operators full access to its exchanges, potentially helping roll-out of ADSL services, but BT is putting up a fight

Oftel ruled on Wednesday that BT must accept requests from other operators to install their equipment alongside its own apparatus within local exchanges, in a move that could boost the take-up of broadband Internet services.

But an unhappy BT looks set to fight Oftel over the watchdog's claim that rival operators, and contractors hired by them, should have the right to enter a BT exchange unsupervised to carry out work. BT has told ZDNet that Oftel is potentially compromising the safety and security of BT's local exchanges and the information that flows through them.

"We're very concerned by this decision," said a BT spokesman on Thursday. "Security is of paramount importance, and we think it is especially strange in the current political climate that Oftel think we should give this kind of access to our exchanges, " he added.

Oftel has rejected BT's concerns, claiming that the telco already gives its contractors unsupervised access to its exchanges. "BT should apply the same objective criteria when authorising LLUO [local loop unbundling operators] staff and contractors," ruled Oftel

Pulling no punches, BT refuted this claim. "In terms of outside contractors, when they come in to the exchanges they are supervised. This is fair, given the importance of the equipment," insisted the telco's spokesman.

BT is set to push its case with the telecom regulator very soon. Oftel's ruling on third-party access to local exchanges was only a provisional decision, so it is possible that BT can change the decision.

The row broke out after Oftel ruled that BT must agree to requests from other operators to "co-mingle" their kit alongside its own apparatus.

Operators other than BT who wish to offer services -- such as ADSL -- to homes have the right to install their equipment in a local exchange, a process called "co-location". BT has been insisting that the other operators' equipment should be housed in a separate walled-off part of the exchange, or alternatively in a be-spoke cabinet or annexe just outside the exchange.

But those operators say these options are too expensive. Instead, they want to place their equipment in the same part of the exchange as BT's own network apparatus -- the practice known as co-mingling. BT has fought co-mingling, but Oftel has now decided that operators should have the right to place their equipment in BT's local exchanges without the need of "a permanent barrier" keeping it away from BT's own equipment.

An Oftel spokeswoman was unable to say whether the decision to allow co-mingling would help to force down the price of broadband, but she suggested that it would help operators to bring ADSL to consumers. "We're hoping to bring down the start-up costs that operators are faced with," she said.

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