BT delays ADSL again, Freeserve says it's a 'disgrace'

Just when you thought ADSL was around the corner, BT has delayed it again. Observers are not impressed. ZDNet brings you this exclusive report
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

In an exclusive Eye2Eye interview with ZDNet News on Thursday, Freeserve chief executive John Pluthero described BT's approach to the delivery of ADSL as "appalling" and a "disgrace". The comment came as the telco decided to delay its broadband rollout for the third time, setting a new 29 June deadline.

According to telecoms watchdog Oftel, BT has sent it a letter asking for an extension to the ADSL trial date. In the letter, BT claims it could not get enough people to take part in the trial, thus leaving systems without adequate testing.

Oftel is currently considering whether to grant an extension and will give its answer in the next few weeks. The original launch date of ADSL was "sometime in March".

Freeserve's Pluthero is blunt in his assessment of what he sees as delay tactics: "It's a disgrace. The reason BT is deliberately slowing down the rollout of ADSL, and let's be clear, it is deliberate, because it is protecting its Highway [ISDN] business."

Gartner Group analyst Adam Daum agrees. "BT has dropped the price of Home Highway to make it attractive to the mass market and has promoted it actively. It has created the embryo of a good market and ADSL will undermine that," he said.

An Oftel spokesman confirmed that BT has delayed ADSL availability, but claimed the most important thing is that the technology is working properly. "It is a delay, but we are keen for the service to be fit for purpose," he said. Ironically, Oftel's comments echo those of BT chairman Iain Vallance. In a speech at the Telecommuncations Managers Association conference in November, Vallance claimed ADSL was not yet "fit for purpose" and that market demand was not sufficient to justify the cost.

If Oftel agrees to the extension, BT intends to start taking orders for ADSL on 20 April, with rollout scheduled for 29 June. Ovum analyst Tim Johnson is unimpressed. "The original date was March, then April and now June. It is pretty disappointing," he said. Johnson also questioned BT's excuse for the delay. "It didn't try very hard to get customers. The problem is not a lack of demand. It could have done a lot more to stimulate extra demand, but BT is its own worse enemy and has been dragging its heels terribly," he said.

BT has set a £35 a month wholesale price for ADSL, leading experts to predict a consumers price of around £50 a month.

Gartner Group's Daum believes ADSL needs to be around £20 per month for mass market appeal. At £50, he argues, ADSL is a non-starter. "The big issue is price, not the launch date. If the service is priced at £50, it will have such low take-up. Delaying it will not matter at all," he said.

Daum has urged BT to bring down the price and promote it above narrowband unmetered access. "ADSL at a reasonable price would solve everything," he said.

Despite these comments from senior industry figures, BT denies there is any delay and claims it has not written to Oftel for an extension. BT insists ADSL is aimed at the mass market, arguing that take up will be by the average consumer.

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

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