BT 'dragging feet' on liberalising line rental

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BT will maintain its monopolistic grip on the domestic telephone market for at least another year, according to Centrica, the utilities and telecoms group.

The damming assessment centres on line rental, something every domestic telephone customer must pay BT for. Ofcom has ordered BT to open the market, allowing rival companies to sell line-rental services. Under the regulator's original timetable, customers would be able to choose between different line-rental providers by this summer.

But Centrica, which owns One.Tel, has warned that a series of BT glitches means that it may not be able to offer a mass-market line-rental package until early next year.

Ian El-Mokadem, the managing director of Centrica Telecoms, said: "There are lots of little problems, but if you look at them in the round then they will cause us a lot of difficulties. We are still planning on launching in the fourth quarter, but I am not optimistic. BT will always try to drag its feet, and while Ofcom allows this, our product won't be ready until next year."

According to documents produced by BT and issued to rival telecoms companies, some of the problems won't be fully resolved until next August.

BT launched a wholesale line product last month that its rivals can buy and resell to domestic customers. But Mr El-Mokadem said: "BT will try to claim that it has already got a wholesale offering. But it is not fit for the purpose."

A BT spokesman said that it began consulting with rivals on how to open up the line-rental market to competition in September 2002. "The product that we launched was absolutely as agreed with the industry."