Orange threatens 3G 'go slow'

Row erupts over call charges...

Row erupts over call charges...

Orange, one of the UK's big four operators, is threatening to put the brakes on its third generation mobile plans unless Oftel takes a more lenient view over existing phone charges, according to weekend reports. Orange is upset over Oftel's probe into network-to-network call charges, which the regulator believes are too high. Network-to-network charges - known in the trade as termination charges - can cost up to 39 pence per minute. In January Oftel handed its investigation over to the Competition Commission after the four UK operators protested. At the time Orange said the Commission's new remit was in line with its wishes. Only BT Cellnet - now o2 - complained about the review. This weekend, however, Orange accused the regulator of being too heavy handed. Speaking to the Observer, Peter Dunn, Orange's director of regulatory strategy, said: "If you take a chunk of money out of business, that's going to affect us." He suggested 3G plans would be hit as a result. "You will not see any immediate move," Dunn told the paper, "but you could see a slowdown in our roll out plans. Our licence commits us to covering 80 per cent of the population in five years' time, but to reach that you don't need to cover much of the country. You could see it opening up a digital divide." Orange was one of the firms that paid a combined £22.5bn for UMTS licences in 2000 and has a commitment to offer third generation to 80 per cent of the population by 2007.