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BT chief calls for telecoms shake-up

SIR PETER BONFIELD, the chief executive of British Telecom, yesterday called for traditional telecoms and broadcasting regulators to be scrapped and replaced with bodies which could police the fast-converging markets of computers, television and telephones.

In a strongly-worded speech which is sure to embarrass the Government, Sir Peter called for a radical shake-up of the current regime. "Old-style regulation, based on the 20th-century sectors of telecoms and broadcasting, is simply not adequate for the 21st century's converged industry," he said.

Instead, Sir Peter put forward a blueprint under which regulators cover four new market sectors: consumer equipment, distribution networks, service provision across those networks and the creation of content.

The structure would allow regulators effectively to police emerging new technologies such as the Internet, mobile telephony and digital television, in which telephone traffic and broadcasting have become almost indistinguishable.

Sir Peter's proposal is a response to a consultation paper published by the European Commission.

Although he was speaking about regulation across Europe, Sir Peter's comments are a thinly-veiled criticism of Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary. Earlier this year, the cabinet minister shied away from suggesting radical changes to the current regulatory regime. Instead, his department opted to leave in place the existing structure, which gives the regulator, Oftel, responsibility for the telecoms industry.

Sir Peter said that developing the right regulatory structure was critical to enhancing Europe's competitiveness. "Regulation has to be tight enough to outlaw unfair competition but light enough to promote investment and innovation," he said.

Speaking at a conference on Europe's New Digital Economy, Sir Peter said this did not necessarily mean having a single European regulator.

However, he said BT would support a "centre of best practice" within the European Commission which would provide benchmarks for national regulators.