Oftel Proposals: What took so long?

Businesses and Net users have been crying out for affordable high speed data services for years. So why has the U.K.'s telecoms watchdog taken so long to announce plans to open up the local telecommunications market?

Back in December Oftel produced its consultative document, Access to Bandwidth: Bringing Higher Bandwidth Services to the Consumer. The document outlined five possible courses of action and kicked off a six month consultation period resulting in today's proposals.

Why it took so long to find out what industry observers already seemed to know is unclear. By May Oftel published its Management Plan for 1999/2000 in which it promised: "Oftel's projects and programmes will promote competition, protect consumers and prevent anti-competitive practices.

"We will begin the review of controls on BT's retail prices this year. Oftel will also consider if regulatory action is needed to promote the development of higher bandwidth services over the telephone network such as video and fast internet access."

"Oftel doesn't move very fast by habit," said Adam Daum, senior analyst at industry analyst Gartner Group. "It became increasingly obvious that BT could go on testing ADSL without introducing it for another 10 years."

An Oftel spokesperson, defended the telecoms giant and denied it had been dithering over the matter. "You can't do this sort of thing over night. We went through a long consultation process with everyone involved. From ISPs to businesses and consumers."

The process is not yet over. Today's proposal will undergo a further consultation period until September 30, and will probably not become Oftel policy for a further six weeks.

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