On the eve of a major broadband Internet announcement from BT, telecoms regulator Oftel has suggested a potentially crippling shake up of BT's licence.
As revealed exclusively by VNU Newswire this week (see yesterday's story), BT will tomorrow give full roll out details for its new broadband asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) service - which will boost Internet access to around 40 times current speeds.
BT will announce plans to offer Internet access using ADSL technology to 70 per cent of the UK population by 2002.
But Oftel has put a spoiler on the announcement by suggesting in a new consultation document that BT should be obliged to rollout an ADSL service to every home in the UK - no matter how costly this proves for BT.
Under the current Universal Service Obligation, BT must provide a telephone line to everyone in the UK, wherever they live, regardless of the installation and running cost to BT.
Oftel, with encouragement from the UK government and the European Commission, is considering extending this to include services like ADSL to spur the adoption of the Internet in the UK.
"The idea would be to reduce the risk of the development of an information 'have not' group in society," the document says.
"It might mean requiring BT to roll out higher bandwidth access technologies such as ADSL to all parts of the country, whether or not a commercial case can be made for it," Oftel said.
However, Oftel also suggested a less dramatic approach where the obligation would only be changed once broadband had been rolled out to the majority.
Oftel has asked for comments on the document, which covers all aspects of the Universal Service Obligation, by 29 October. BT said today it was not yet ready to comment.
"The cost to deliver a new network which covers everybody is going to touch $10 billion to $12 billion," said Chris Miles, broadband consultant at Internet technology vendor Edge Technologies.
"Even if 50 per cent of the Internet community took up the service they would be talking about a very long term return on investment. At £30 per month it would be years and years away," he said.
BT will announce plans for a range of services including Internet access at speeds ranging from 0.5Mbps to 2Mbps and a 2.5Mbps stream for video on demand.
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago