Unbundling the local loop might sound like something a proctologist would do, but it's at the heart of our future as an online nation. Should BT's phone cables -- largely laid at the taxpayer's expense -- be made available to anyone, like the road network? Or should they be kept in the hands of a single controlling authority, like the railway tracks? There are arguments for both: what can't be denied is that these are the links that will tie us into the most important new economy of recent times.
You wouldn't know that from the speakers at the conference. 3Com said that ADSL wasn't as good as cable, so the problem didn't arise (3Com makes cable modems.). Marconi said that ADSL would shortly be superceded by wireless (Marconi makes wireless networks). BT says that unbundling isn't necessary (BT wants to keep the local loop to itself). Oftel said that ISDN pricing had been shamefully high, but didn't touch on the current equally painful status of local call costs. And so on, and so forth.
The fact is that the local loop is a unique resource that is much better than any alternative. It reaches 80% of the population -- a figure far higher than cable can ever hope to reach, even if the cable companies could be bothered. It can hit speeds of tens of megabits per second today and requires no international agreement over standards before it can be deployed, unlike wireless. It will be difficult to unbundle it, and it will be dangerous to leave it in the hands of BT.
The situation demands proper informed debate, not a succession of self-interested, barely factual posturings from companies pretending to have the one true answer.
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