Competition irks Mercury

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The Independent Online
MERCURY Communications is in dispute with Energis, the telecommunications operator owned by the National Grid Company, over interconnection to the Mercury network.

The row is the first between two fixed network operators, not including BT, to be referred to Oftel, the telecommunications watchdog.

The dispute turns the tables on Mercury, which for years has battled with BT over interconnection prices and terms. In a twist of fate, Gordon Owen, former chief executive of Mercury and the man credited with creating the company, is now chairman of Energis.

Energis has built a fibre optic network that runs the length and breadth of the country and is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in the system. The company, which plans to open for service in the autumn, is widely regarded as the most serious national rival to BT and Mercury.

However, to reach customers, Energis needs access to parts of the BT and Mercury networks. The company says that Mercury is refusing to allow links between its customers and the long-distance Energis networks. It is also thought that Mercury is refusing to allow access from its payphones to the Energis wires.

According to a Mercury spokesman, the issue shows that the entire regulatory system has to be reviewed.

'There are now competitors to BT trying to get access to each other. The present rules do not cover that,' he said.

Mr Owen said that the interconnection arrangements with BT are far from free and open. In spite of efforts by Oftel, he said: 'There is still not genuine open access to the BT network today, which is needed to get customers on to our network and others. It is just not there.'

(Photograph omitted)

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