Oftel forces BT to roll out alternative broadband service

Oftel ruling will give rival telcos more control of the network, and lead to a wider choice of high speed services and products

Oftel will force BT to roll out an alternative broadband service to its rival telcos, it emerged today.

The move follows complaints to the watchdog from rival telcos Energis and Thus over the paucity of wholesale broadband services available. In response to these complaints, Oftel will tomorrow tell BT that it must negotiate an alternative wholesale product for telcos which will give them more control of the network, create more broadband services and ultimately, it is hoped, offer more choice of high-speed products to consumers and businesses.

Oftel's decision will be yet another blow to a beleagured BT and something of a victory for its rivals. Currently, operators have two options -- they can either get involved in local loop unbundling or take BT's broadband wholesale option. Local loop unbundling has been beset with problems and the wholesale product, Energis argues, is more suitable for service providers. Telcos need something that gives them more control over the network says Energis.

In its ruling, which is due to be published tomorrow, Oftel agrees. "In Oftel's final determination BT must negotiate an extra inter-connect product with Energis and Thus and have until 17 April to conclude these negotiations," Energis' regulatory manager Andrea Dworak told ZDNet News. "They have until 17 June to provide a product and it should be available to consumers not too long after that."

But the ruling is not a complete victory for Energis. Dworak expressed her disappointment over Oftel's failure to set a price for the new service. "The next period of negotiation with BT will be to find out what product and what price they will offer us. If BT is not co-operative we have to go back to Oftel which could add another six months on the roll out," she explained. "We would have liked more indication about pricing but Oftel has rejected that and we are disappointed."

Energis claims the new product will not affect its involvement in unbundling. "We are still involved in that process and see this as a complementary service," Dworak said. At the government select committee set up in December Energis revealed that it was cutting back its investment in local loop unbundling due to foot-dragging from BT.

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

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