BT agrees to let rivals use its high speed phone lines

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The Independent Online
HIGH SPEED unlimited Internet access at fixed prices and movies delivered over the phone line will become available to UK households and businesses from next spring, following an unprecedented agreement between the telecoms watchdog Oftel and British Telecom.

BT plans to invest pounds 5bn over five years to upgrade its fibre optic network as well as provide lightning speed digital subscriber line modems to business and residential customers. BT exchanges serving London and other large urban areas will be the first areas where high-speed DSL services will be offered.

This will allow consumers Internet access at speeds up to 20-times faster than currently available. Video on demand and other televisual services, such as live concerts and sports, will also be technically feasible.

For small and medium sized businesses, DSL technology will improve Internet and other data capabilities to levels currently limited to the expensive private networks of big corporations.

In what seems likely to significantly boost innovation and cut prices, BT has agreed to allow competitors to offer services over its copper phone line network that extends into 20 million UK homes and businesses.

This is expected to usher in an era of unprecedented choice and intense price competition as telecoms firms vie for business.

MCIWorldCom, the world's biggest Internet traffic carrier, welcomed Oftel's proposal to open BT lines to competition. "They really ought to be congratulated," said Michael Butler, MCIWorldCom's UK managing director. "It will be beneficial to the economy and the country."

Britain's three cable companies are also preparing to offer high-speed Internet and other multi-media services as early as the autumn. But because their market share is a low 17 per cent of total households, they will not be forced to allow competitors access to their networks.