BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in:  Sci/Tech
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 14:26 GMT
Dogged fight for broadband
Fibre optic cables
Access to wires has caused fireworks across Europe
A David and Goliath battle over fast net access is taking place in Britain, as the telecoms giant BT fights to hold on to the wires that connect homes to broadband. BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield reports on a small telecoms firm trying to break BT's stranglehold.

Local loop unbundling, the process that opens up telephone exchanges to other operators, should have burst the broadband dam.

But few telecoms firms have taken on this long and expensive process that is beset with bureaucratic and technical issues.

In the UK, only a handful of the 40 operators who originally signed up for unbundling are left.


Incumbents have to take a large chunk of responsibility for the failure of DSL to date

Vincent Pickering, Bulldog
Of them, only a company called Bulldog is still doggedly building an alternative network for home users, with the others focusing on the more lucrative business market.

According to Bulldog's lawyer, Vincent Pickering, the process has been painfully slow, full of small, almost petty disputes, that together add up to one huge unbundled headache.

"It is very important to have full cost information about how much the whole process will cost. It has taken us over a year to get that information out of BT," he says.

Security review

Another issue for Bulldog is access to the telephone exchanges themselves. BT has always maintained that operators would have to put their equipment outside of its buildings for security reasons.


We have been open for business for local loop unbundling for two years. We are keen to do business and are waiting for orders

BT spokesman
Bulldog has argued it would save a lot of money to share the exchanges.

"BT rejected the idea in January last year citing safety reasons. Oftel intervened and in November ruled we could have unescorted access and gave BT 30 days to come up with the guidelines for this. We are still waiting."

After 11 September, BT insisted on a full review of security, a tactic Bulldog felt was taken advantage of an unfortunate situation to farther delay the inevitable take-over.

BT vehemently denies that the security review has anything to do with unbundling and has always maintained that it has done everything required of it by Oftel to open up its network.

"We have been open for business for local loop unbundling for two years. We are keen to do business and are waiting for orders," says a BT spokesman.

Mr Pickering is not convinced.

"Incumbents have to take a large chunk of responsibility for the failure of DSL to date," he counters.

"They have slowed it down and failed to provide information."

Difficult role

If Bulldog has been fighting BT every inch of the way, then it has not found much of an ally in the telecoms watchdog Oftel.

Oftel is in charge of overseeing the process and making sure that everything works smoothly, a process the director general David Edmonds has likened to "trench warfare".

Mr Pickering is not sure that Oftel has got its priorities right.


Our focus is to promote effective competition and for that to happen BT needs to abide by its licence obligations. You cannot split the two

Oftel spokeswoman
"Oftel sees its role as ensuring that BT complies with its licensing obligations rather than ensuring competition in the UK," he says bluntly.

Oftel admits there were problems in the first few months of LLU but claims that most of the issues have now been resolved.

"BT is taking direct orders and it is not strictly true to say the systems aren't in place," said an Oftel spokeswoman.

"Our focus is to promote effective competition and for that to happen BT needs to abide by its licence obligations. You cannot split the two," she adds.

It has clearly been an uphill battle but Bulldog is almost ready to unveil the first phase of its network, which will connect 1,000 exchanges up and down the country to its alternative network.

Competition versus price

But another spanner has been thrown into the works.

BT is on the verge of lowering the wholesale price of DSL and while the majority of the industry, who rely on BT for their broadband, welcome this move, Bulldog is not happy.

"Any farther cut will be illegal and Oftel is already investigating BT for predatory pricing," says Mr Pickering.

While those that buy BT's wholesale product regard the price cuts as a huge step towards affordable broadband, Mr Pickering urges them to take a long term view.

"With a new BT CEO in place, BT is looking for quick fixes. It may mean cheaper broadband in the short term but it will kill off competition," he says.

"The moment competition goes away the monopoly will control the price again"

See also:

12 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Local loop loses out
14 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Will 2002 be the year of broadband?
29 Oct 01 | Business
No answer to BT's unbundling call
21 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
MPs slate high-speed net rollout
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories