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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 12:12 GMT
MPs slate high-speed net rollout
Wired BBC
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

The process of creating Broadband Britain has been branded "almost farcical" by a commons select committee.

This sorry tale does not suggest a high level of administrative competence among those involved

Select Committee report
A report produced by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry has sharply criticised everyone involved in the overseeing, setting up and selling of high-speed internet services.

This process, called local-loop unbundling (LLU), involves giving BT's rivals access to its exchanges so they can establish their own brand services.

The committee was prompted to investigate because unbundling has been dogged by delays, rows among telecommunication companies and disputes over costs.

Critical mass

In a bid to give consumers more than one high-speed internet service to choose from, telecommunications watchdog Oftel has set in motion a system that will let BT's rivals take over the copper cables connecting homes to local telephone exchanges.

In order to offer their own-brand high-speed services, telecommunications companies need access to the exchanges so they can install equipment that connects consumers directly to their networks.

Currently, BT is the only company offering high-speed net services over local phone lines. Many of its rivals are reselling this service to consumers.

Oftel kicked off this local-loop unbundling in November 1999, but lately it has become bogged down by administrative delays, squabbles over costs and disputes among telecommunication companies over who gets access to which exchanges.

Blaming and shaming

Prompted by the delays, the Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry has been investigating local-loop unbundling and its hard-hitting report has just been made public.

The report criticises everyone involved in the unbundling process. BT was censured for dragging its feet and being too slow to pass on information to rivals and Oftel. The rival telecommunication operators were attacked for squabbling among themselves and being unable to agree on basic technical standards.

Oftel itself was rebuked for intervening too late when delays occurred and for not acting decisively enough. The committee concluded: "This sorry tale does not suggest a high level of administrative competence among those involved."

The report hit out at the telecommunication firms who were initially quick to criticise the slow pace of unbundling and then declined to commit themselves financially once it was actually underway.

No date yet

However, the sharpest criticisms were reserved for Oftel, which the committee said should have done more to force the pace of unbundling.

Oftel defended itself by saying that it only had powers to make BT act on unbundling in August 2000, almost 10 months after it started pushing for the process to start.

An exact date for when people will have a choice of high-speed net suppliers has yet to emerge said the report. "There is still a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the timing of LLU and the ultimate delivery of high-speed services to customers."

The committee's report was drawn up following discussions in November between members of the committee and Oftel director general David Edmonds, BT boss Sir Peter Bonfield, and companies such as Thus, Energis, OnCue and Kingston Communications and others planning to set up their own-brand high-speed services.

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See also:

18 Jan 01 | Business
Oftel calls industry summit
20 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Lots of room at the exchange
12 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Fast net is slow to arrive
19 May 98 | R-S
Select Committees
19 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Oftel urged to act on broadband
15 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Gambling on the local loop
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