First exchange unbundled ahead of BT

An alternative broadband operator has finally installed ADSL kit in a telephone exchange that BT has not already upgraded

Easynet says it has become the first operator to install broadband intrastructure in a local exchange before BT got its own kit in first -- nearly three years after the introduction of local-loop unbundling (LLU), which was supposed to make this possible.

In an announcement on Monday, Easynet hailed this as an achievement that shows how public-private partnership is stimulating the rollout of high-speed Internet services.

It also illustrates, though, the limited impact that LLU has had in boosting wholesale broadband competition.

The local exchange in question is at Dimsdale, in the West Midlands. Easynet has installed its ADSL equipment in the exchange as part of a deal with the Advantage West Midlands development agency, which has subsidised the cost of the upgrade.

"You can't do business today unless you have easy access to affordable broadband. But there are still too many broadband black spots around the country, including industrial areas like Dimsdale," said David Rowe, chief executive of Easynet, in a statement. "The solution is private-public sector cooperation to justify the business case for broadband and this project is an excellent example of what can be achieved when both sides work so closely together."

He added that Dimsdale is a trailblazer for Easynet's E3 programme, which -- like BT's registration scheme -- indicates how many customers are needed in each area before broadband will be provided.

The businesses and residents of Dimsdale may soon have a choice of two different ADSL products. BT has set a broadband trigger level of 300 registrations before it will upgrade the exchange, and 162 people have already signed up.

Easynet is the leading LLU operator in Britain. In its last financial statement it said that 127 local exchanges were either fully unbundled or in build mode by 31 August 2003.

LLU allows a rival operator to install their equipment in a BT exchange and offer services directly to customers over the phone line between the exchange and the customer's home, rather than just reselling a BT Wholesale product.

The European Commission pushed for the introduction of LLU in the hope of creating full competition at the wholesale level of telecommunications. Although BT unbundled its network as demanded by the end of 2002, the process all but collapsed shortly afterwards as many LLU operators pulled out.

BT, at the time, was accused of deliberately obstructing the process in order to maintain its dominance of the wholesale ADSL market -- a charge it has repeatedly denied.

Oftel's latest figures show that just 7,600 telephone lines have been unbundled, out of some 20 million phone lines in total.

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