BT's chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield has dismissed allegations that the telco is deliberately obstructing competition in the UK, despite fierce criticism from rival operators and industry regulator Oftel.
Appearing before the Trade and Industry Select Committee yesterday, Bonfield remained calm as MPs questioned him about delays in local loop unbundling, and denied suggestions that BT has been "deliberately difficult" with competitors.
BT's rivals, who had appeared before the Committee earlier in the day, told the same MPs that the telco's discriminatory behaviour is hindering their plans to invest and deliver digital subscriber line services. Last month, Oftel told the MPs that BT has been "dragging its feet" over local loop unbundling.
Bonfield, who admitted he was not a fan of regulation, detailed a number of practical difficulties that his company has faced when "dealing with the complex issue of local loop unbundling". These included the co-operation with planning authorities, building contractors and workmen, as well as the other operators.
However, in response to a declaration by Labour MP Martin O'Neill, the committee's chairman, that BT "didn't break sweat on unbundling the loop", Bonfield admitted that BT had not been "gung ho" in its initial approach to opening up its network, and claimed that the company did not have the resources needed for unbundling.
He said that while the company would allow its competitors access to 600 of its 6000 exchanges by July 2001, and is confident of meeting the requirements of the European Union regulation by 1 January, it needed to hire an extra 2000 staff to help with the process.
"I am not confident that we have all the resources, but I am confident we have the plans in place," said Bonfield. "We must work with the industry, and this requires all operators to play their part."
BT also admitted that the roll out of high-internet services in the UK would be "backlogged" well into 2001. "The demand for ADSL is higher than we can supply at the moment and we will have a backlog of orders well into early next year," said Bonfield.
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