ISPs snub BT broadband overhaul

BT will scrap the current allocation process for broadband, but ISPs say the relaxed system is still not good enough for them to provide proper services

BT's network arm, BT Ignite, will scrap the current allocation process for broadband next month in the hope of encouraging ISPs to roll out services, but ISPs are underwhelmed.

Offering broadband via BT's wholesale service is currently the only option in the UK for providers who do not own their own cable. It was hoped that operators would be able to offer broadband services via local loop unbundling -- the system in which telcos place equipment in BT's exchanges -- but this is yet to get off the ground and the majority of players have withdrawn from the process.

However, with demand currently running at just 18 percent despite ISPs claiming there is huge pent-up demand for ADSL, there is clearly a problem.

ISPs have complained that BT's allocation procedure -- in which providers have to specify every month how many subscribers they want connected to broadband -- is too shortsighted and cumbersome. Now BT is scrapping the system. From 4 June, ISPs will be able to request as many broadband connections as they wish and BT is confident it can cope with demand.

"We have been talking to customers and they have cited the allocation scheme as the reason why they don't have confidence," said Chris Gibbs, vice president of broadband at BT Ignite. "As from 4 June they can put in whatever orders they want and we hope this will allow them to start marketing campaigns. We have removed the barrier and now they can go after the market."

While this sounds like good news, AOL for one will not be launching a broadband advertising campaign just yet. "Everything we have seen gives us grave concerns about the ability of BT to roll out a mass market product," said an AOL spokesman. "If BT can't deliver on our promises, our customers are going to blame us."

ISPs are concerned that BT's ordering process -- from a customer asking for ADSL to an engineer installing it -- has a lot of problems to iron out. Sources have told ZDNet that the telco is currently relying on 40 different databases, none of which talk to one another, in order to process orders.

For ISPs, one of the biggest issues is the lack of service level agreements for ADSL; BT is currently refusing to offer any. Oftel claims it is currently investigating the issue of service level agreements but has made no decision on whether to force BT to offer them.

The telecoms watchdog welcomes the scrapping of the cumbersome allocation process. "We hope ISPs will use the opportunity to roll out services," said an Oftel spokeswoman.

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