BT to face monopoly inquiry

BY MARY FAGAN

BT is to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission over its refusal to accept proposals by Oftel, the industry's regulator, on number portability - the ability of customers to keep the same telephone number if they switch to another operator. The company said it accepted the need for portability but could bot accept Oftel's view that BT should bear the brunt of the cost.

Meanwhile, BT has accepted far-reaching changes to its licence that will ensure that it accounts separately for different parts of its business. There are also new provisions giving greater powers to Don Cruickshank, director-general of Oftel, to prevent unfair cross-subsidy and ensure fair play for BT's rivals.

BT said that the changes in accounting: "Confirm the UK's place as the most open telecommunications market in the world. They provide a model which, we believe, should be followed throughout Europe and in other countries committing themselves to open their telecommunications markets."

The decision to accept fundamental changes but to go to the MMC on number portability comes as a shock to industry observers. The company has gone to the brink of a referral on several occasions but has only been referred in one instance - concerning "chatlines".

A BT spokesman said: "BT is committed to number portability, but cannot accept Oftel's proposal that BT's customers and shareholders should pay the continuing costs of providing it. We have told Oftel that, and Oftel now intends to take the matter to the MMC. We do not want to go to the MMC."

Trials on number portability, which some City analysts say could cost tens of millions of pounds, are already underway. The BT spokesman said: "BT promised Oftel that pending the report of the MMC, it will continue with existing trials and not delay implementation of number portability."

He said that the allocation of costs following an MMC report would be backdated.

Mr Cruickshank said that he is "disappointed" at BT's decision on numbers but pleased that the overall changes on accounting have been agreed. "BT's acceptance of the package represents another important milestone along the road to really effective competition. These modifications will provide the confidence in the regime governing interconnection (to BT's network) that the industry needs."

BT has also attacked Oftel for "lacking vision" and has said that the regulator has an "indecent" combination of powers. The comments came as BT responded to an Oftel consultative document on the future framework for the industry. The company said it is alarmed that Oftel appears to envisage a strengthening of regulation into the future. Peter McCarthy- Ward, BT's manager for public and commercial policy, said he has "ongoing discomfort" at Oftel's ability to act as "lawmaker, investigating attorney, prosecutor, jury and judge". That is an indecent combination of roles. It is not consistent with natural justice," he said.

Comment, page 17

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...