BT's monopoly days are numbered

EU signals end to telephone monopoly in Europe

The legal framework governing unbundling of the local loop gets teeth Tuesday as the EC moves to ensure all incumbent European telcos fall into step with European timetables.

For British Telecommunications (quote: BT), the threat of fines and a possible legal backlash looms large if it fails to deliver unbundling on time.

Although most experts agree the EC -- which has pushed the telecoms regulation through the European Parliament -- has backed down on plans to enforce unbundling by January, it is expected to take legal action against telcos that persistently delay.

The framework is expected to be ratified by the Council of Ministers in Brussels Tuesday.

Local loop unbundling will give rival operators access to BT's local exchanges, allowing them to install their equipment and roll out their own ADSL. BT's current rollout of ADSL is widely regarded as in a mess, and its own broadband provider BTopenworld last month apologised for persistent delays and problems with the service.

UK telecoms regulator Oftel admitted in a recent interview with ZDNet News that BT's attitude to unbundling has "bordered on the obstructive". Its own failure to speed up the process resulted in the watchdog's director general David Edmonds being dragged in front of the Trade and Industry committee to explain his organisation's actions over unbundling.

Since then Oftel has imposed its own set of fines on BT if it fails to stick to the agreed timetable. It has also allowed operators to seek independent verification for BT's claims that some exchanges are too full for rivals' equipment and the telco will also face heavy penalties if these claims turn out to be untrue.

During the interview Edmonds denied the watchdog has fallen out with the EU over the UK's timetable for unbundling.

BT has so far only committed to having 600 out of the UK's 6000 telephone exchanges ready for other operators by July, with another 200 being unbundled every month thereafter.

Oftel is confident it is now in line with the EU's plans for unbundling. "We fit in with the requirements and are ahead of some of the requirements," says a spokeswoman. "We have taken action to make sure it moves forward as quickly as possible."

Is broadband coming to your neighbourhood? Find out with ZDNet UK's Broadband Britain Guide.

Can you get high-speed access for your home or business? Find out with the ADSL Special

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.