E-growth threatened as BT locks out rivals

Antony Adshead The promise of affordable broadband Internet access, which is essential for e-commerce growth, looks even further...

Antony Adshead The promise of affordable broadband Internet access, which is essential for e-commerce growth, looks even further off, after BT said it will lock out rival telecoms firms from a number of its exchanges.

BT's DSL competitors will be locked out of about 300 "blacklisted" exchanges for the first wave of local loop unbundling due next July, posing a threat to prospects of truly national high-speed Internet access.

A BT spokeswoman said, "On the blacklist are locations where there may be problems giving access to other companies. The problems may include that the exchange is full, the building is on the market, or the power supply has reached capacity and requires the building of a new electricity sub-station."

BT competitor RSL Communications has pulled out of the local-loop bidding process after complaining that BT and Oftel have failed to create a genuine competitive environment. It said BT's rivals were left with the least popular exchanges while BT could tighten its grip on prime markets.

According to Telecommunications Managers Association director general David Harrington, the situation threatens the competitiveness of the UK in e-commerce.

"The impact is that the roll-out of broadband services is delayed, and hence a UK company's ability to compete with the Americans and Germans is damaged.

"It is no good having a sophisticated Web site and service tools if you are presented with a bandwidth bottleneck and you just can't deliver, especially in a business-to-consumer environment," he said.

Industry regulator Oftel said it does not have a comprehensive national strategy for broadband roll-out. A spokeswoman said, "We have to look at cases as they arise because the situation can be very different from exchange to exchange. Any operator can apply to any exchange and if there are difficulties installing services from that exchange then Oftel will step in to mediate."

Harrington said, "All this confusion, with the lack of a timely and very firm hand from Oftel, means that BT can continue to delay, having innumerable reasons in its locker for doing so. BT's revenues are certain to benefit considerably from this in the near future, as it grabs market share and also hangs on to its leased-line market. This mess is holding back the information society in the UK."

A BT spokeswoman pointed out that there is also a "green" list, which details sites where competitors can easily gain access to BTexchanges, and an intermediate category.

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