Oftel dictated to by BT says ISPA

Oftel's director general is being dictated to by British Telecom and failing the British public as a result, says the Internet Service Providers Association

Oftel's ability to regulate BT is left in serious doubt Friday as the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) accuses the watchdog of being "misinformed" and details its failure to deliver flat rate access in the UK.

Since AltaVista ditched its unmetered plans this week, the eyes of the industry have been on BT to provide an alternative to the current charging regime, which has been blamed for the failure of flat rate access.

In May the watchdog compelled BT to introduce a wholesale unmetered tariff -- known as Friaco (Flat Rate Internet Access Call Origination). The decision was lauded by industry with experts describing it as a historic step towards a cheaper and fairer Internet market. ISPA, however claims Oftel has failed to do its job.

Its ruling was fatally flawed according to ISPA because it only asked BT to deliver partially unmetered access. "Oftel did not direct BT to provide unmetered access from the local exchange to the regional exchange -- thereby knowingly mandating BT to make available a product which has proven to be unworkable," reads a statement.

Laurence Blackall, an ISPA council member, believes director general of Oftel David Edmonds is being dictated to by BT. "Mr Edmonds is sadly misinformed if he believes that BT's delayed and diluted unmetered plans will allow full and fair competition in the UK Internet access market," he says.

Oftel hits back, claiming BT has responded to everything asked of it. "There has been ongoing dialogue since SurfTime was launched to come up with a solution that is best for the industry. Industry found the first Friaco unsuitable so we are moving to get a better version of it," says an Oftel spokesman

The decision, claims Oftel, hinges on a technical report. "BT has said that it is not technically possible to have unmetered access between the local and regional exchanges. We have commissioned a report to investigate this and until it is done we can't commit either way," he adds. The report is "possibly weeks away".

ISPA is unimpressed, claiming the technical committee was due to report back in June and accuses Oftel of taking "three times as long as [it] said".

ISPA is not the only one fed up with Oftel's ability to regulate BT. The European Commission is currently head to head with the watchdog over its timetable for local loop unbundling and AOL -- quick to praise Oftel for its handling of Friaco in May -- is also losing faith. "We have grave concerns about Oftel seeming to praise BT," says an AOL spokesman. "They have completely changed their tune from what they said in May."

ISPA urges Oftel to pull its finger out and get the technical report into unmetered completed "as a matter of great urgency". AOL asks Oftel to get its head out of documents and get back to the coalface.

"We urge Oftel to have a look at what is actually happening on the ground. BT is simply not implementing what Oftel has asked it to," says an AOL spokesman.

Take me to the Unmetered Access Special

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.