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BT accused of unbundling overcharge

Cable & Wireless has complained to Ofcom that BT regularly broke the regulator's rules when setting up new lines
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Cable & Wireless has accused BT of overcharging it regularly for connecting customers to unbundled exchanges.

In a complaint now lodged with Ofcom, the provider has claimed BT broke rules set by the national telecommunications regulator, which were supposed to see BT charge other operators fair prices for setting up new lines in its exchanges.

The complaint refers to the period between 16 December, 2004 — when the rules were set in Ofcom's review of the wholesale local access market — and 30 June, 2006. Although BT is named in the complaint, Openreach — the access division spun off in January 2006 to expedite the unbundling process — is not.

More than 1.3 million lines have so far been unbundled in the UK. This is intended to give BT's rival providers equal access to exchanges and let them offer a wide range of broadband services to their customers.

"We think we've been overcharged by BT over quite a long period of time," a spokesperson for Cable & Wireless' access business told ZDNet UK on Wednesday, adding that extensive negotiations had failed and Cable & Wireless was "using the regulatory processes available to us to get back what we regard as our money".

BT's spokesperson said only that the telecommunications giant was "aware of the situation and will be co-operating fully with Ofcom during the course of its investigation".

Cable & Wireless's allegations stem from what it sees as a flouting of conditions imposed on BT regarding the connection of new customers". The rules stated that BT had to provide network access when reasonably asked to do so and as soon as possible, and that BT could only levy "reasonably derived" charges for doing so.

In a significant number of cases, Cable & Wireless has claimed, BT overcharged because a new line was not in fact required, or because it was set up inefficiently. It is also alleged that BT charged for engineer visits that never took place, and that BT took more time to respond to Cable & Wireless' setup requests than was reasonable.

Ofcom is now calling for evidence to be submitted by the end of the month, although a spokesperson for the regulator declined to comment further on the case while it is ongoing.

Despite a year of Openreach, the efficiency and speed at which local loop unbundling (LLU) is rolled out across the country continues to be questioned. The latest monthly update from telecoms adjudicator Peter Black revealed that his office was still investigating "underlying issues" between Openreach and rival communications providers, following what he called a "significant underperformance" in fully unbundled lines.

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