Oftel responds to criticism of local loop unbundling

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The Independent Online

Telecoms watchdog Oftel and British Telecom were locked in meetings last night after Oftel's director general David Edmonds issued stringent new guidelines in a bid to jump start the unbundling of the telecom giant's local telephone lines.

Telecoms watchdog Oftel and British Telecom were locked in meetings last night after Oftel's director general David Edmonds issued stringent new guidelines in a bid to jump start the unbundling of the telecom giant's local telephone lines.

Mr Edmonds issued guidelines requiring the company to provide co-location space in its exchanges for rivals' equipment within four months of a request. When equipment is installed, unbundled loops must be provided within five days.

Mr Edmonds also assumed power to determine the price of unbundled loops. Other items, including co-location fees, will be subject to negotiation between BT and other carriers, though Mr Edmonds will set prices should disputes arise.

Mr Edmonds said: "If there is any dispute between an operator and BT it will be resolved by Oftel. If necessary I shall not hesitate to make determinations requiring BT to comply." BT, for its part, took issue with the guidelines. A spokeswoman said: "We are seeking clarification. We want to know what he means."

Recently, Mr Edmonds has come under criticism from telecoms and internet companies for sanctioning delays in introducing competition in network access and services. The opening of local copper lines connecting homes and businesses to BT exchanges is expected to result in service innovation and lower prices for online access -- key priorities of the government's aim to stimulate the information economy. Despite leading Europe in telecoms deregulation during the 1990s, Britain has slipped behind Germany and the Netherlands, not to mention the US, in developing competition and high speed internet services over local lines. Industry watchers have criticisied Oftel for devoting too much time to consultations rather than using statutory powers to ensure compliance with network access and liberalisation directives.

John Docherty, an executive with Colt Telecom, an alternative network services provider to business, said: "The process and systems in Germay are in place, but they haven't been in the UK. Germany had an earlier start and there is a political and regulatory will to make (unbundling) work."

BT has made available 361 exchanges, out of 5,500 across the country, for the first phase of co-location access and unbundling. WorldCom, the global internet traffic leader, has pulled out of bidding for access in the initial phase but is considering joining the process later when more commercially attractive exchange locations in major urban and business areas are offered.

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