Oftel speeds up unbundling plans

More attractive exchanges get top priority in bid to drive competition

Oftel is to bring forward the unbundling of the UK's most popular local telephone exchanges, after a special meeting with BT and other telcos Thursday to tackle a lack of operator interest.

The telecommunications watchdog said it plans to make the first of these more sought-after exchanges available by Easter and hopes this will speed up unbundling across the country.

Oftel has to stagger the unbundling process in order to encourage operators to make use of a different range of exchanges. In the past few weeks BT has opened up around 25 exchanges but received only a few orders. Just one operator -- Eircom -- is currently offering an unbundled service to customers.

An Oftel spokesman says this may be because many operators are holding out for the more desirable local networks, such as those located in wealthy urban areas. He suggests that when more desirable exchanges are snapped up, this could press forward unbundling in other areas.

Oftel says that today's emergency meeting helped identify these "teething problems".

"This was a constructive meeting," said Anne Lambert, Oftel’s director of operations, in a statement. "All who attended were keen to solve the problems that have arisen so that the unbundling process can proceed according to the agreed timetable. Oftel was encouraged by the degree of commitment shown by many operators and BT."

Unbundling BT's local exchanges for competition will allow other operators to deliver broadband content over ADSL more cost-effectively. Unbundling is part of the European Union's strategy to free telephone lines from the grip of incumbent telcos such as BT, and Oftel has in the past been criticised for allowing the UK to fall behind the scheduled timetable.

"Oftel, BT and operators are making very great efforts to iron out the problems that have arisen," said Lambert.

Local loop unbundling may have commenced with a whimper not a bang, but that isn't to say that it won't be revolutionary. Go to UK Anchordesk, and let Guy Kewney tell you why.

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