The price for bringing higher bandwidth to UK Internet users could be kept artificially high if BT maintains its stranglehold on the UK's phone networks, delegates were told at the "Unbundling in the UK" conference this week
According to Oftel's technical director Peter Walker BT has set a dangerous precedent for high prices. "Oftel shamed BT into looking again at ISDN pricing. If BT pitches DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) at an equally high price there would be widespread dissatisfaction," he said.
The conference comes on the back of Oftel's consultative document "Access bandwidth: Bringing higher bandwidth services to the consumer". The telecommunications watchdog is currently considering whether to intervene to allow other companies access to BTs copper loop that serves the majority of the UK. The emergence of DSL technologies, which will provide high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand and other interactive services to consumers has brought a new urgency to the debate.
Delegates at the conference were asked to consider five options for higher bandwidth and give their views on whether Oftel should intervene in the market. The technologies to bring broadband services to consumers can be delivered via telephone lines, cable, optical fibre, digital TV and mobile/fixed radio.
BT's portfolio manager Tom Hamilton believes the market for higher bandwidth is not ready for intervention. "The market is unsettled and the last thing we need is regulatory intervention," he said.
Martin Ward, technical director of electronics firm Marconi, believes the delivery of data via phone lines will face stiff competition from mobile and fixed radio by 2002. "If it flies in the States, it creates the equipment to be used in the UK and could come here very quickly thereafter," he said. However Ovum analyst John Matthews believes wireless technology has been tarnished by the collapse of Ionica.
Oftel warned that even when BT roll out ADSL, unbundling will not be off the agenda.
See what Rupert thinks of Oftel's plans in The Goodwins Perspective