Richard Greco, chief executive of Bulldog Communications, has accused BT of inventing security concerns in an attempt to stop other operators having full access to its exchanges to maintain their equipment.
Bulldog wants to compete directly with BT Wholesale by selling ADSL to Internet service providers. It is delighted by Oftel's decision last week to approve co-mingling -- where rival ADSL wholesale providers place their equipment in the same part of a local exchange as BT's own kit.
But since Bulldog plans to employ the same contractors as BT to build and maintain its equipment, the budding wholesale ADSL provider cannot see why it should not enjoy unsupervised access to local exchanges. Greco claims that BT is looking for an excuse to force rival operators to place their equipment in specially designed rooms within or next to an exchange.
"BT is just using talk of security fears as a smokescreen, so it can hamper the competition and get as big a headstart as possible in the wholesale broadband market," Greco told ZDnet. He added that it would cost an operator up to £70,000 for a separate room at an exchange, while co-mingling could bring the price down to around £5,000 per exchange.
BT seems far from happy with the idea of other companies wandering around its buildings. Security concerns, especially following last month's terrorist attacks in the US and the current bombing of Afghanistan, have been cited. It insists that, if the likes of Bulldog want to place their equipment in the same area as BT's own, they must accept that BT staff will supervises all visits.
According to Greco, this is both unacceptable and unnecessary. "It's ridiculous to expect us to give two weeks notice for access, and to pay £500 for the privilege," Greco said. "We'll be using the same contractors as BT, and they already enjoy unsupervised access to the exchanges."
BT disputes this. "Outside contractors are supervised when they come into the exchanges to carry out work," insisted a BT spokesman. "We insist on this, given the importance of the equipment." The company is expected to make this point, forcefully, to Oftel.
While Oftel's approval of co-mingling is final, it has not yet made a decision over third-party access. BT and Bulldog hardly sound to be on the best of terms, so there promises to be a high-spirited consultation process up until 7 November -- the cut-off point for comments and views to be submitted to Oftel. The regulator's ruling, due shortly after this date, seems certain to enrage one side or the other.
The decision to approve co-mingling met with Greco's firm approval. "This allows other companies to compete on a level playing field with BT. It will have a significant impact on the price of broadband, and should also speed-up the rollout of ADSL-enabled exchanges across Britain," he predicted.
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