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Watchdog bites BT over Net services.

Regulator Oftel took further action against BT yesterday to boost competition for high-speed Internet services.

Oftel intervened in a dispute over the standards of service the former monopoly must offer other operators wanting access to the 'local loop', the BT-owned wires linking exchanges to homes and offices. The regulator ruled in February that BT must pay operators compensation if it failed to meet agreed service levels, but the operators complained in May that the levels BT wanted to specify were inadequate.

'Oftel has decided that much of the complaint was justified,' it said in a statement, adding that it was the first time it had intervened to set service standards.

Oftel said it was also proposing BT should pay pounds 10 for each working day an unbundled loop is unavailable and pounds 80 per operator for each working day's delay in providing facilities for locating equipment in its exchanges.

Ian Morfett, BT's director of regulatory affairs, said the company was already meeting the standards requested by Oftel.

He said he was irritated by the tone of the announcement and objected to the 'heavy handed' approach adopted by the telecom industry watchdog to local loop unbundling.

'This is meant to be a consultation but we are unsure whether they have already made their mind up. It's a heavy-handed approach,' charged Mr Morfett.

'It is not at all surprising that Oftel has decided that rather than leave it to the industry they should intervene. The only surprise is the hectoring tone of the document.'

So far, BT has unbundled just 146 lines. Largely as a result, Britain has the lowest take-up of broadband Internet access of any of the G7 nations.

'Any exchange is available - if an operator wants to take unbundling of the exchange they can,' said Mr Morfett. 'We call it project Martini - any time, any place, anywhere. We have delivered on all the demands.' The Government has pledged to make broadband Internet connections widespread by ending, or 'unbundling', BT's monopoly over the local loop, but the process has been dogged by disputes between BT, its rivals and the regulators.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 24, 2001
Words:350
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