Refusal by Oftel to extend deadline

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The Independent Online
The telecommunications industry regulator, Don Cruickshank, is understood to have emphatically ruled out any possibility of extending the deadline for BT to accept his fair trading proposals. Pressure on BT intensified last night, as speculation mounted that the Government might be persuaded to intervene to broker a settlement between the two sides.

Oftel has given BT until next Friday, 2 August, to accept or reject the package of proposals, which would give the regulator the power to ban anti-competitive behaviour without the need to make specific amendments to BT's licences.

The measure has been linked to a more generous pricing formula for BT, which would remove most business customers from the price cap.

Mr Cruickshank is understood to be insisting that if no word comes from BT by the deadline date, he will make an immediate referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

BT has taken the view that reaching a compromise to the impasse is more important that sticking by a strict deadline.

BT's last hope to avoid a costly and time consuming MMC investigation, which would cover its entire business, may lie with the DTI. The company hopes to persuade ministers to amend the Telecommunications Act, to include a formal right of appeal against Oftel's decisions.

However, sources in the DTI have previously suggested that such a move "is not imminent."

But Oftel is not thought to be taking part in any discussions with the DTI on the issue.

Mr Cruickshank, who returned from holiday this week, has taken the view that any change to the law would be solely a matter for Parliament.

BT's board met on Tuesday to discuss its next move, but a final decision is said to be "too close to call".