View from City Road: Another thorn in BT's side

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On the face of it, the arrival on our shores of AT&T, the great granddaddy of world telecommunications, is extremely bad news for our own British Telecommunications; it should fill the company with horror. The cable TV industry in Britain is already dominated by American telecommunications players. AT&T is yet another thorn in the side, and a big one at that.

Perversely, BT said yesterday it welcomed the news that AT&T had been granted a national telecommunications licence. It means, BT confidently expects, that its own application for reciprocal treatment in the US, which has been languishing with the American authorities since April last year, should soon be granted too.

BT makes an odd convert to the brave new world of open access to international telecommunications markets. Most of us still remember the days when behaving like an all-powerful national monopoly was as natural for BT as falling off a log. Britain blazed the trail in opening up telecommunications to all comers, however, and BT was forced to fall into line. It has managed to adapt in a way no one would have believed possible even a few years ago.

The US market is one of the more open in the world, but there are still severe restrictions on the ability of overseas companies to enter the telecommunications market and on their ability to buy into existing US operators. Let's hope BT is right, and Britain's generosity is indeed reciprocated.

It would certainly help if the rest of Europe were not dragging its feet so much. The UK and US are moving in the right direction; the Continent still has a long way to go.