Exclusive: Oftel boss predicts the death of the watchdog

While ZDNet readers were calling for his head on a stick, Jane Wakefield was being told by David Edmonds why Oftel's days are numbered

The days of Oftel could be numbered as its director general admits Monday that the convergence of technology requires a new regulator.

Speaking exclusively and candidly to ZDNet News David Edmonds confesses he is leading the vanguard for the abolition of the watchdog in its current form and claims to be extremely excited at the idea of its replacement -- coined OfCom.

This new regulatory agency would take on more responsibility, merging the duties currently being overseen by Oftel, the ITC and the Radio Authority. "What we want this organisation to do basically is look after the interests of the consumer in a world of converged technology," he says. "Oftel would disappear."

In a wide-ranging interview Edmonds also confessed that BT's behaviour over local loop unbundling had at times "bordered on the obstructive", accusing the telco of refusing to apply its customer care to the operators keen to get into its exchanges.

"You have to treat them [other operators] as someone you value as much as you value a retail customer and I think it took a long time for that concept to get rooted in BT," he says. He also admits that many of the changes brought about by BT in both the broadband and narrowband markets have come about as a result of "regulatory pressure".

Last week Oftel issued proposals for local loop unbundling which would see BT facing fines if it does not stick to agreed timetables for rollout. Edmonds denies this has come about as a result of criticism of its role in the process but admits he does not share BT's views about the amount of space available in exchanges.

"I think in the majority of exchanges there will be enough space," he says. Oftel is determined to make room, utilising "car parks and broom cupboards" if necessary, Edmonds says.

Oftel has come in for harsh criticism for its slowness over unbundling. Edmonds admits the process should have started two years earlier than it did and that in hindsight the decision of his predecessor to allow the cable market to end BT's monopoly of the telecoms market was not as powerful as the unbundling route.

He claims to understand people's frustration at the consultation process Oftel employs and admits it can take up to six months to investigate issues but he is vehement in his defence of his organisation.

"I think you are looking at an organisation that in the space of the last few years has come to understand the Internet and electronic communication in a way that we haven't before and has responded very quickly and has been pretty darned proactive," he says.

In a expansive interview Edmonds also talks through the history of unmetered and broadband, the role he believes the watchdog has played and looks forward to a future of affordable access.

Read the full interview with Oftel director general David Edmonds on ZDNet News tomorrow.

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

How can you get online for less? Find out in the Unmetered Access 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.