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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Oftel accused of 'wasted opportunity'
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A global telecoms company has accused UK regulator Oftel of failing to ensure fair competition between BT and its rivals in the development of high-speed internet services.

RSL Communications, which aims to set up broadband services across Europe, has pulled out of the first round of bidding in the "unbundling" of BT's local loop.

Oftel had the chance to create real competition to BT in the local exchanges but it wasted the opportunity

This process is the opening up to competition of the last part of the UK network, the wires connecting local telephone exchanges to homes and offices.

Oftel has ordered BT to make the local loop available to competitors by July next year, and other companies have been bidding for the right to instal their own equipment in exchanges.

RSL - founded by Ronald Lauder, son of cosmetics legend Estée Lauder - said: "Oftel had the chance to create real competition to BT in the local exchanges but it wasted the opportunity."

'Unfair advantage'

It said BT was being given an advantage in the prime residential and business markets because other service providers could apply for space only in the least populated exchanges.

RSL said that only 360 of the smallest exchanges would initially be available to newcomers, and that BT would not have to bid to secure its own market share.

"It gives BT time to tighten its grip in the prime markets while the competitors are left to struggle for market share in the least popular exchanges," it said.

Oftel said the unbundling process had been agreed by the telecoms companies themselves and that the exchanges with the fewest bidders were being opened up first, with others to follow.

'Still on track'

"We want to make sure that local loop unbundling takes place within the timeframe of July 2001 at the latest and we would like to see some availability from the New Year, and that is still on track," it said.

RSL is quoted on the Nasdaq stock market in the US and provides telecom services to more than a million small and medium-sized business and residential customers across more than 30 countries.

Oftel has been criticised before for not pushing through unbundling more quickly, thereby ending BT's monopoly.

However, US-Dutch pan-European telecoms joint venture KPN-Qwest says it has signed an agreement with BT to roll out its high-speed internet services in the UK.

The deal gives KPN-Qwest access to BT's local loop. The firm also says it aims to introduce its services in 20 major British cities, subject to further negotiations.

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See also:

30 Aug 00 | Business
BT launches fast net connection
22 Aug 00 | Business
Battle for the internet
18 Sep 00 | Business
BT talks to AT&T
26 May 00 | Business
'Historic' ruling on internet access
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