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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Gambling on the local loop
BT rolls the dice
Lucky telecoms companies may be the first to go local
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

BT is planning to resolve squabbles over which company is first to install equipment in its exchanges using a dice roll.

Oftel is forcing BT to open up its network to competitors in a bid to boost the take up of high-speed internet services.

BT cannot meet all demands on the first day, or in the first tranche

Oftel spokesman
But so many companies want access to the exchanges that BT has been forced to adopt a novel process of deciding who goes first.

In the most popular sites, priority will be decided by the roll of a dice. The company rolling the highest number will "win" and be able to install equipment before anyone else.

This week saw the start of the process that will give telecommunication companies access to BT's "local loop" - the last stretch of cable between a telephone exchange and a customer's home or office.

Oftel has demanded that telecoms companies have access to BT's network from the end of this year.

Space program

Once they have access, companies will be able to offer their own brand high-speed ADSL net surfing services.

By 12 September any, company wanting access to the local loop had to tell BT which exchanges they wanted access to. They can ask for space in up to 1,500 of the 6,500 local exchanges that BT is opening up. So far, 30 companies have applied.

Some are applying for access to a significant proportion of the exchanges. Kingston Communications has applied for space in 1,000.

So many companies want access to so many exchanges that BT has turned to Electoral Reform Services (ERS) for help in sorting out the competing claims.

"BT cannot meet all demands on the first day, or in the first tranche," said an Oftel spokesman explaining why the system was needed.

ERS has recommended BT use a system called single transferable voting (STV) to make the choice.

STV works by asking voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Votes not needed by a candidate, because they have too few to be elected to a post or enough to guarantee a position, are transferred to the voter's second choice.

Rolling election

This system will be used to work out which 360 exchanges are the most popular and therefore first to be opened up. It is likely to be used in the second tranche of allocations due to start in December.

But the most controversial part of the system will be the way that BT decides who gets the available space if there is a tie.

In that event, allocation will be decided by rolling dice. The guidelines for the process say: "The operators...will be invited to throw a die to establish which will gain the available space, the highest number thrown being the 'winner'."

"It is highly unlikely that it will come down to that," said the Oftel spokesman, adding that space trading and negotiation will probably remove the need for the dice to be rolled.

The results of the voting will be unveiled on 18 September, and any dice rolling will be done on 6 October.

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