Oftel toughens stance on BT

BT faces a fresh round of controversy over plans by the watchdog, Oftel, to acquire far-reaching new powers against anti-competitive practices. The regulator is understood to be toughening its stance on potential abuse by BT of its market position and, unless the company agrees the changes, the matter will be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Don Cruickshank, director-general of Oftel, is expected within weeks to issue a document setting out plans for a general condition in BT's licence and those of its rivals that would enable him to pinpoint anti- competitive behaviour and order it to stop while an investigation is conducted. It would replace the complex and growing series of individual licence conditions relating to competition. Equally important from the point of view of BT's rivals, it would end a situation in which alleged anti-competitive behaviour can continue until the case is proven.

Oftel has been consulting on the proposals for months and BT has been lobbying fiercely for them to be watered down. In particular, the company has complained that one individual - Mr Cruickshank and his successors - would have sweeping power as judge, jury and executioner and that BT would have insufficient right of appeal.

Industry sources say that Mr Cruickshank, far from being swayed by BT's arguments, has dug his heels in. He believes that as BT provides an ever- greater range of services as well as owning and operating the network, there has to be a solid competition framework to protect BT's customers and rival service providers. Sources at Oftel have also pointed out that the proposed sanctions against abuse of power are little different from those that BT would like to see in place in other countries where it operates, or plans to do so.

That argument has done little to console Sir Iain Vallance, BT's chairman, who has accused Mr Cruickshank of having "ambitions to become an untrammelled competition authority as well as a regulator".

In a recent speech he said: "It is my belief that the director-general's current proposals presage a highly dangerous new form of regulation, with broad and undefined discretionary, or absolute, powers vested in a single individual."

The watchdog is thought not to be impressed by such public attacks. He may, however, go some way to meet BT's concerns on the definition of abuse of power. Sir Peter Bonfield, BT's chief executive, said in an interview earlier this month: "What we cannot accept is having Oftel decide what is anti-competitive without knowing what that may be. It is not an environment in which you can make decisions because the rules might change."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • 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

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before