BT hits at delays

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The Independent Online

Industrial Correspondent

Sir Iain Vallance, BT's chairman and chief executive, yesterday launched a strident attack on France and Germany for inaction in opening their telecommunications markets.

Speaking the day after Germany announced a virtual free-for-all in telephony from 1998, Sir Iain said: "There is still very little - if any - sign of early movement in the two largest markets in continental Europe despite the encouraging words in Bonn yesterday."

Speaking at a conference in Brussels, Sir Iain called for a framework for true competition to be agreed and established "long before 1998". He added: "The framework must set out the rules of the game for all players. Without that there can be no lasting progress."

The announcement in Bonn that there would be no limit on the number of new telephone licences issued is believed to have angered BT, which had hoped to be one of an elite few chosen to compete with Deutsche Telekom once its monopoly is dismantled. BT has teamed with Viag, a leading German industrial conglomerate, to attack the market.

The German authorities also failed to elaborate on the key issue of how new operators would interconnect to the existing network.

Sir Iain launched a veiled attack on the alliance that exists between state-owned France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. "We have to ask whether there is a place in this competitive market for companies or alliances who continue to enjoy protected status in their home markets," he said. He called for a strong regulatory body that would set and enforce policy for communications industries throughout Europe and ensure that rules are implemented uniformly in member states.

BT is increasingly concerned that Europe's intention to liberalise voice telephony services and access to networks by January 1998 will not be followed through with firm action by individual governments. Sir Iain said a convergence of time scales for a "fully open and consistently regulated" market should be agreed at the next Group of Seven meeting, in Nova Scotia.