Cruickshank urges cable firms to improve their standards

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The Independent Online
Don Cruickshank, the telecommunications regulator, yesterday strongly criticised cable companies for failing to match the range of services offered by rivals such as BT.

At an industry conference in London, where other speakers attacked cable firms for their inability to capitalise on the billions of pounds of investment in local television and telephone networks, Mr Cruickshank urged the companies involved to compete more effectively by pooling resources and expertise.

Since the UK telecommunications market was deregulated in 1991, cable companies, many of them owned by foreign corporations seeking experience of the world's most liberal market, have failed to erode the dominant market share of BT in telephony and BSkyB in subscription television.

Cable remains a small player in both markets, with just 7 per cent of telephone lines. BT continues to dominate the residential market with more than 90 per cent of customers.

Mr Cruickshank said services available on cable compared unfavourably with those offered by BT, such as Call Minder, Ringback When Free and Caller Display. He said: "You would all agree that you need to do more, and more quickly. Why let BT have this edge?"

He also criticised the way cable operators marketed their services on a local basis rather than as a single national alternative to BT or BSkyB. Earlier this year the cable industry launched a pounds 12m television advertising campaign, but it has been criticised for failing to get the message across.

"This is all taking a long time. Meanwhile your competitors are running down the field with the ball," said Mr Cruickshank.

Another problem highlighted was that of service quality. He said occasional lapses in customer service were eroding the image of cable. He also questioned why long-distance phone calls made between two cable areas were routed through BT or Mercury.