BT faces legal action over ADSL

Dominant telco accused of giving BT Openworld preferential treatment on ADSL connections

British Telecommunications (quote: BT) could be hit by legal action by the likes of AOL Europe and Wanadoo-owned Freeserve (quote: FRE) over its glitchy rollout of high-speed ADSL Internet access.

The introduction of BT's ADSL has been sluggish, with AOL Europe and Freeserve allotted about 100 connections a week. However, it emerged Wednesday that BT's own ISP, Openworld, may be getting preferential treatment in its efforts to connect broadband ADSL users.

BT OpenWorld chief executive Andy Green said Wednesday Openworld has been adding 1,000 to 2,000 ADSL customers a week since 1 January. "We want to clearly be the leader in broadband (in Britain)," Green said.

However, AOL Europe and Freeserve claim they have been told by BT's Ignite wholesale division that their engineers can only connect about 100 new ADSL users a week.

"It seems BT is giving preferential treatment to Openworld," said an AOL Europe spokesman.

A Freeserve spokesman told the ISPCon conference Wednesday that if the figures were correct, Freeserve would consider taking legal action against BT. AOL is also consulting its lawyers, and is calling for BT or Oftel to clarify the installation figures.

"Openworld is not the largest [ISP] player in the country, yet it seems it is being allocated more installations than its competitors," AOL Europe chief counsel Clare Gilbert told ZDNet UK. "Only BT or Oftel can provide the information on whether this is true. If so, it's a serious breach of BT's obligations as a former monopoly to act in a fair way to ensure competition for consumers."

BT was not immediately available for comment.

Other countries in Europe, and notably the US, are already in the advanced stages of deploying ADSL, which is expected to greatly increase the appeal and usefulness of the Net.

More details to follow.

The news that matters is not the puff, that BT expects to cover "half the population of the UK" with ADSL capability by early summer, and will have reached 70,000 subscribers by April. What Guy Kewney thinks matters is -- whether the various super-powers in the comms business can agree a way of doing business. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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