BT criticised for missing broadband access targets

THE SUPPLY of high-speed internet connections to consumers is being held back by operational problems at BT Group with regulators' key performance targets being missed, according to Peter Black, the man charged with overseeing the progress made by BT in opening up its network to rivals.

Mr Black's comments come as expectations for broadband demand continue to grow steeply. Internet service providers (ISPs) have had to shelve marketing plans because of BT's performance while it has failed to respond to fault calls within defined times and costs.

Mr Black, the telecoms adjudicator, has been appointed by Ofcom, the industry regulator, to oversee the progress by BT in opening its local access network to rivals - so-called local loop unbundling, which is key to delivering the Government's vision of "broadband Britain".

Mr Black said: "The systems in place have not been industrially robust, new systems were struggling through the depths of the problem. The number of orders is going up but not as much as I would have hoped. As the activity increases there is more opportunity to get things wrong. BT have their issues. I think they could address them with a bit more alacrity."

Mr Black yesterday issued a report to industry chief executives which showed that delivery of working, unbundled services was running at a rate of 50-60 per cent versus a target of 75 per cent which is set to rise to 85 per cent soon.

BT said it was now assigning 350 extra staff to deal with unbundling orders and meet regulatory targets. "Clearly there are targets here which we have not met yet but we are committed to the success of local loop unbundling. We are working very hard to make sure we deliver," said a BT spokesman.

There were 31,000 local BT lines unbundled by the end of January with Mr Black's office having targeted 50,000 by this month. There were 12,000 unbundled lines in May 2004. However, ISPs using local loop unbundling as a way of supplying broadband to consumers believe the country will need 2.5m unbundled lines by the end of 2006 compared with initial estimates of 1m last September.

Mr Black's report does acknowledge that BT's management, led by Ben Verwaayen, the chief executive, is addressing the issues and that new, automated delivery systems are due to be implemented in March and April.

Mr Black said his office would publish monthly updates and performance figures while BT had agreed to publish its own internal performance indicators on its website.

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