Oftel takes blame for local loop unbundling delay

Telco watchdog regrets not stepping in to sort out Britain's local loop

The head of Oftel, David Edmonds, acknowledged Tuesday that the telecommunications watchdog is partly to blame for the sluggish unbundling of BT's (quote: BT) "local loop".

Oftel (Office of Telecommunications) began the process of unbundling Tuesday, naming the 360 local exchanges that are to be opened up to competing telecommunications companies.

"Clearly with hindsight, I would have liked to have drawn up proposals before now," Edmonds told the Financial Times, referring to the naming of these local exchanges. "If I plead guilty to anything, it is that we might have stuck our oar in harder, sooner."

It had been left to BT and rival telecom providers to coordinate which UK local phone exchanges should be opened up but Oftel was forced to intervene earlier this month, after continued dispute made this process hopeless. In April, Oftel revealed the 14 operators that will bid for these local networks.

An Oftel spokeswoman says that the telecoms watchdog delayed intervention in the hope that BT and others would come to some agreement independently. "In the past companies have had their differences and have settled them," says the spokeswoman. "We felt that they would have got their act together. Unfortunately they didn't and we had to step in."

Unbundling this part of the telephone exchange is expected to open the way for cut-price high-speed Internet and interactive television services in the UK.

Tony Westbrook reckons that when something seems too good to be true, experience suggests that it usually is. As it was with the recent rash of completely free internet access offerings. One of the culprits for scuppering the free services must be BT who is sticking firmly to its June 2001 date for unbundling the local loop -- the last possible date by which it has to do it. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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