Oftel wades into DSL row

Telecoms watchdog Oftel is accused of penalising UK businesses Tuesday as it steps into the escalating row over DSL deployment

A major storm has been brewing in the Spectrum Management Forum -- set up by Oftel to discuss issues around DSL and unbundling of the local loop -- between BT and rival telecoms operators.

Several rival telcos accuse BT of deliberately promoting its own ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) over other flavours of DSL.

Oftel has been getting its teeth back in in recent weeks, ordering BT to open up its network to allow other operators to offer narrowband unmetered services and now intervening in the DSL debate. Oftel claims its intervention was needed to prevent the unbundling timetable from slipping.

"So far the telcos have been unable to reach a decision on certain issues. Oftel took the opportunity to present its own proposals in order to maintain the momentum of local loop unbundling," explains an Oftel spokesman.

The watchdog claims its proposals on the roll out of alternative DSL technologies is fair to all users but some members of the forum accuse it of penalising businesses.

Director of marketing at business telco Fibernet, Nigel Pitcher, is baffled by the watchdog's attitude. "Oftel's proposal seems to be that it is OK for businesses to be penalised quite heavily. It is a mystery to us," he says.

Under the plans only 65 percent of businesses would be able to access SDSL (Synchronous Digital Subscriber Line) -- which because of equal upstream and downstream bandwidth is regarded as more suitable than ADSL for businesses -- and the service will be restricted to 1 Mbit/s, says Pitcher.

While Oftel claims roll out of SDSL has been limited because of "interference issues" others accuse the watchdog of pandering to BT. Director of regulator policy at telco GTS, Iain Osborne, disagrees that there is an interference problem.

"The problems are not there and I am not sympathetic to Oftel devoting nine months to a spectrum management forum," he says. "Oftel's proposals are extremely limiting for other variants of DSL. Oftel has allowed BT to determine the services others will be implementing."

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