BT takes cheers and faces jeers

Union officials are still furious that Marconi missed out on BT's 21CN project, while Ovum says there are signs of change in BT's attitude to the rest of the industry

BT came face-to-face on Wednesday with the anger it has created by only choosing foreign suppliers to upgrade its UK infrastructure, but also received a thumbs-up for the work it is doing to restructure itself.

Members of Amicus, which describes itself as the UK's largest manufacturing, technical & skilled persons' union, protested outside BT's annual general meeting, furious that it snubbed Marconi when choosing its first wave of suppliers for its 21st Century Network (21CN). This decision has already forced Marconi to cut several hundred jobs, and there is speculation that Marconi could now be a takeover target.

The protests did not seriously disrupt the AGM, in which BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland said that 21CN would play a vital role in helping BT offer world-class and cost-effective telecoms and networked IT services.

Meanwhile, analyst group Ovum said on Wednesday that it was impressed with the work that BT is doing creating an access services division aimed at ensuring that rival telecoms firms get full and fair access to BT's network.

Ofcom forced BT to offer to set up this access services division by threatening to begin the process of splitting the firm unless it allowed more competition.

But although BT didn't set up the division until prompted to by Ofcom's ruling, Ovum — which met with BT officials on Wednesday — believes the company is energetically getting to grips with the task.

"BT has previously been very defensive and reactive in its approach to regulation, as a result of many painful battles. But yesterday BT spoke enthusiastically about a settlement within the industry, not an imposition by the regulator. It clearly hopes this is a settlement to the strategic review process, but also an end to the past 20 years of bickering between BT and the industry (both competitors and the regulator). Ofcom has talked of its desire for a change in BT's behaviour, and on today's evidence we have witnessed it," said Ovum analyst Mike Cansfield.