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BT wants an end to rivals' bickering

With five million ADSL users connected, BT's chief executive wants the UK to 'get on with life' and use broadband to transform education, schools and the workplace
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Written by Graeme Wearden on

BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen hopes that his company's achievement of connecting five million wholesale broadband connections could lead to less infighting in the UK telecommunication sector.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, Verwaayen said broadband take-up in Britain was now high enough to fuel a transformation in the way UK citizens work, learn and entertain themselves. He believes broadband will let children surf the world's libraries from home, allow patients to be examined remotely, and give small companies the chance to compete on a global stage.

"We must move away from the favourite pastime of bickering and moaning," said Verwaayen, who wants communications companies such as BT to work with the government to realise broadband's benefits.

Since BT was privatised over 20 years ago, there have been scores of complaints from rivals that the telco has abused its powerful position in the market.

Verwaayen also claimed that BT was giving Ofcom the chance to reshape Britain's regulatory landscape, with its offer to split part of its business into a separate "access services" division. This would include part of BT Wholesale's operations, and would be governed by a board including two members nominated by Ofcom.

"We’ve made a wonderful offer. It gives Ofcom the chance to create forward-looking telecoms regulation for the first time," said Verwaayen. "It's a wonderful opportunity for the industry to get on with life."

BT made its proposal after Ofcom threatened that it could be broken up unless it offered rival operators fair and equal access to its network.

Ofcom will give its verdict on BT's offer by the end of June. Last month, Ofcom chief executive Stephen Carter warned that structural separation was a serious option.

Carter was appearing at a hearing organised by the trade and industry select committee. A number of senior executives from UK telecoms firms also appeared, and several expressed concerns about BT's behaviour. Mary Turner, chief executive of Tiscali UK, claimed that secrecy over BT's 21st Century Network project was hampering her firm.

Energis went further, calling for BT's break-up.

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