BT heading for monopoly in broadband

UK disappoints in unbundling league tables says ECTA

UK telecoms regulator Oftel is failing to create a competitive market for broadband services, claims the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) Monday.

According to ECTA figures released Friday, the UK currently only has 15 exchanges offering unbundled services, putting it well below Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden which have 200, 147, 100, 1,600 and 250 respectively.

"We are in danger of creating a situation in which the incumbent telco is the only one offering DSL services and extending the monopoly from voice to data," says head of regulatory affairs at ECTA John Dickie. "Oftel has yet to give confidence to the industry that it will deliver unbundled services with the quality and timeliness that new entrants need."

Unbundling the local loop is the latest attempt by governments and regulators across Europe to introduce competition in the broadband Internet arena, following years of monopoly in voice services from incumbent telcos. Unbundling offers rival telcos the chance to install their equipment in telephone exchanges but recently in the UK many telcos have withdrawn from the process, blaming high costs and delays from BT.

Oftel denies that the ECTA figures are accurate. "We don't endorse these figures and some of them are very inaccurate," says an Oftel spokeswoman.

In fact, Oftel's figures illustrate an even more stifled market than the ECTA's estimates do. "There are currently four trial sites in the UK but I don't know exactly how many operators are rolling out services. They are available in Battersea and Northern Ireland," the spokeswoman says.

The watchdog points out that it has taken action to speed up the process recently, accelerating the rollout of more popular exchanges and looking at operator's complaints about pricing. While the ECTA accepts that things are getting better it is still not impressed. "If we had six months ago the framework that is now being put in place, the world would be a better place," says Dickie.

BT is sticking to its old argument about cable, claiming that the fact that 50 percent of households have access to cable suggests competition in the broadband market is working just fine. "It is a well-known fact that Germany is a couple of years ahead of us with unbundling but historically in the UK competition has developed by other operators building out their own networks," says a BT spokesman.

However, he admits that the five million cable customers in the UK do not compare to BT's 27 million customers. "We don't have monopoly in the business sector but in the residential market, yes, we are the preferred user," he says. At a select committee meeting in the House of Commons in December, BT's managing director Sir Peter Bonfield claimed BT is likely to be the leading supplier of ADSL to the domestic market.

BT needs to transform itself into a keenly inspired organisation, where marketing and technical people work together to offer new and exciting services to an amazed market. Guy Kewney says -- in reality, what seems to be happening is that a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool civil service bureaucrats are harnessed to an army of jobsworth telegraph-pole monkeys who obstruct any effort made by strategists to make things happen. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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