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Oftel Forces BT to Open Local Loop

Oftel, the UK Government's Office of Telecommunications, Tuesday published its timetable for BT to unbundle it local loop, making it available to other operators.

BT will be required to provide full access to its local telecoms lines by July 2001 at the latest, says Oftel. The requirement will be a new licence condition for BT.

The unbundling of BT's local loop will make it possible for other operators to introduce ADSL Internet services directly into homes and businesses over existing telephone wires. The operators will also have access to BT's updated infrastructure,and the other telcos will also be able to modify BT lines for their own services.

The move will also bar any restrictions on which companies have access to BT's lines, outside of technical incompatibility. BT will also be forced to offer wholesale prices to its competitors, and Oftel will set the cost for use of the local loop.

"New high speed communications, such as fast access to the Internet which helps e-commerce, are revolutionising the UK's economy and society," said David Edmonds, Director General Telecommunications.

"My decision today will enable a wide range of telecoms companies to compete directly with BT to deliver new higher bandwidth services to homes and small businesses using the local telecoms network."

Oftel gives full details of its approach in a published statement entitled "Access to Bandwidth: Delivering Competition for the Information Age."

"My statement sets out the details of who will have access to BT's local network, and how the prices for leasing BT's local loop will be calculated," said Edmonds.

"In addition to my decision to allow telecoms companies to upgrade and use BT's local loop, Oftel will ensure that operators and other service providers can provide their own high speed data services over BT's network as soon as BT has upgraded its lines. BT hope to have the new services available to six million homes by March 2000."

Meanwhile, Sir Iain Vallance, chairman of BT, hit back at critics who will undoubtedly welcome the Oftel decision (related article). He denied that BT was introducing broadband technology too slowly and slammed the regulations that enable "free access" ISPs to collect revenue by stealth.

Among the key dates set by Oftel for unbundling the local loop are: April 2000, publication of the draft licence condition that sets out arrangements for access, with price indicators; and January 2001, when operators will put in requests for co-location of equipment in BT exchanges.