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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 July, 2004, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Watchdog backs broadband changes
An engineer in one of BT's exchanges
Other operators will soon be given keys to BT's exchanges
UK surfers could soon be making cheap internet calls and taking advantage of affordable super-fast broadband.

Regulator Ofcom has laid out its plans for the future of broadband now that high-speed access is well established.

The watchdog believes the key to the next stage will be the opening up of BT's network to other operators.

Doing so could lead to widespread adoption of internet telephony and, by the end of the decade, video-quality bandwidth in the majority of UK homes.

Past failure

It could offer broadband packages at a variety of speeds and fixed price phone calls
Video on demand could become a reality
Mobile calls in the home to be made using Voice Over IP, saving money and making mobile the default handset in homes
Lack of funding means currently only 9,500 telephone lines have been unbundled out of 35 million
That represents less than 1% of broadband lines
France is most unbundled European country with 8% of broadband offered via LLU
The process of opening up BT's networks to other operators - known as local loop unbundling (LLU) - began in 1999 when the then telecoms watchdog Oftel forced BT to allow rivals into its exchanges.

However, by the time the details of the complex process were ironed out, the telecoms and internet bubble had burst and there was very limited interest in investing in new networks.

Now the market is a lot healthier and more optimistic about the future, LLU is firmly back on the agenda and Ofcom is determined to get it right this time.

It published proposals to open up BT's exchanges in May and at the same time BT announced that its charges for LLU would be dropped by 70%.

This was welcomed throughout the industry, although there were still concerns about how the day-to-day operational issues would work.

To make this process work more smoothly, Ofcom has established a Telecommunications Adjudicator, Mr Peter Black who has previously worked at BT, Thus and cable firm NTL.

He will act as an arbitrator in disputes between BT and rivals and will remain independent of Ofcom.

Rival networks

BT has welcomed the appointment.

"It is not a case of BT versus the rest but everyone wants different things from the process. Some will be judged reasonable and some will not," said a spokesperson for the telco.

BT's rival Wanadoo is also pleased by Ofcom's determination to push the process of LLU.

"Wanadoo has made no secret of its view, shared by Ofcom, that LLU is essential for broadband growth in the UK, and we look forward to working with Ofcom and the new Telecoms Adjudicator to make Broadband growth a reality in the UK," the company said in a statement.

It is possible that the service provider could launch its own network in the UK.

"BT has a virtual monopoly in the wholesale market, which means that the price and features are determined by BT," said a Wanadoo spokeswoman.

"Without LLU we wont get innovation or different speeds, prices and packages," she added.

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15 Jun 04  |  Northern Ireland

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