BT gives way over publishing charges

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The Independent Online
BRITISH Telecommunications yesterday went a large part of the way towards meeting the demands of the industry regulator, Oftel, for transparency in the charges it levies on other operators to use BT wires.

Replying to a consultative document issued in June by Oftel, BT agreed to publish a list of standard prices for connecting other telecom companies to its network.

Significantly, it also agreed to publish separate accounts for different parts of its businesses so that rival operators would know they are paying only the same as BT charges itself.

At present, rival operators such as Mercury and cable television companies are obliged to negotiate connection charges 'blind' - a time-consuming process that provides no guarantee that the price reached is a fair one. Under the new system, both the prices and the way BT arrives at them would become transparent.

However, BT rejected a number of Oftel's other proposals, including a recommendation that the regulator should have the power to alter BT's published prices if rival operators complain they are unfair.

BT said that the accounting separation should apply only to local delivery of calls and other monopoly services, arguing that Oftel's proposals did not reflect the development of competition.

BT also argued that Oftel's approach would encourage competitors to treat the BT network as a shared national utility, enabling them to reap the benefits of BT's investment programme on the same terms as BT.

In the consultative document, Oftel said that for accounting purposes BT should be split into BT-Network and BT-Retail - the arm that sells services to end users.

It also envisaged the separation being in place by the end of this financial year. In return, BT has offered to prepare separate, externally audited accounting statements for three activities - access, local network and other systems business.

Oftel sources suggested that BT appeared to have gone some way to meeting its proposals, but whether this would provide the basis for an agreement remained to be seen.