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Local loop unbundling still stumbling along

BT admits that it has only handed over 163 residential lines to other operators, but insists that its rivals aren't asking for any more
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

BT has failed to meet its previous commitments on local loop unbundling, but is blaming lack of interest from rival operators

The telco admitted on Friday that it had only given 163 residential lines to its competitors. Allowing other operators access to the "local loop" -- the part of the network between individual houses and the local exchange -- is seen as crucial for the widespread rollout of affordable ADSL services.

A BT spokeswoman told ZDNet that there are currently 40 exchanges where rival operators can install equipment, and that a further 50 will be available soon. "We've only handed over 163 lines, because that's all that the operators have asked for," she said. "We have the capacity to roll out 1000 lines per week".

However, with only 40 exchanges available so far BT has not managed to achieve what it has promised. Before the cross-party trade and industry select committee, chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield promised MPs that BT would make 600 exchanges available to competitors by June 2001 and 1,000 by the end of this year or early 2002.

According to BT, one reason for the slow rollout of ADSL is that other operators are still working on the technical side. "Most of those 163 lines are being used for testing. ADSL is new to BT, so it's even harder for the operators to get everything working," said the BT spokeswoman.

In the past, BT has been accused of deliberately obstructing local loop unbundling (LLU) in an attempt to maintain its market share. LLU should allow rival operators to sell wholesale ADSL packages, which should force down the price paid by the end user. At the moment, BT is the only firm that can sell a wholesale ADSL product.

Regulatory body Oftel refused to say whether it was disappointed at the current state of LLU, and backed up BT's claim that a lack of demand from operators was partly to blame "Obviously 163 lines is less than expected. One reason is that there's been less demand from operators, because the current financial climate is not as good as in the past".

Former e-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt has spoken in the past of the importance of LLU as a way of creating "Broadband Britain". The Department of Trade and Industry was unable to comment at press time.

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