Unbundling timetable too slow say experts

Experts say July 2001 is not soon enough

Industry experts believe the timetable set by telecoms watchdog Oftel for the unbundling of BT's local loop, announced Tuesday, needs to be brought forward.

Analysts and politicians have accused BT of dragging its heels over the unbundling issue and blamed Oftel for failing to change its deadline. Oftel is giving BT until July 2001 to offer up its copper loop to other operators, citing "technical difficulties" for what it described as a "delay".

Bob Jones of Internet software supplier Equiinet believes Oftel is merely pandering to BT. "It is Oftel's concession to BT, yet another concession. While it is excellent news that that the local loop will be competitive for the first time it is very frustrating they have given them a two year timetable," he said. "The speed with which Oftel is prepared to move is sluggish."

Jones is also sceptical about the "technical difficulties" cited by Oftel. "The truth is BT has been trialling ADSL for five years. Are they saying what they are trialling does not conform to recognised safety standards?" Jones asserts there is nothing difficult about unbundling. "It is not technically difficult at all, it is not rocket science," he said.

Bob Cushing, marketing director of business telco Redstone, agrees. "The timetable is not quick enough. The idea that there are technical difficulties is somewhat debatable," he said. While he accepts BT's argument that there needs to be time to test equipment installed in its exchanges by new operators, he advises BT to move as quickly as possible. "It has already been done in the US and Germany. Go find out how they did it."

Cushing is also sceptical over the time it will take to smooth out security and legal aspects of opening BT's exchanges to other operators. "How long does it take to sort out a commercial lease on a property?" he asked. "It is simply a matter of producing a commercial contract."

BT claims unbundling will result in unfair distribution of ADSL services, with operators cherry-picking only the profitable services. Cushing disagrees. "BT will still be able to offer wholesale services to ISPs. The two will run side by side," he said. "Under the option endorsed by Oftel, it is not a question of excluding anyone. It is simply that operators will be able to target specific groups," he said.

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