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 special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable