BT is deliberately slowing down the process of opening up its local telephone exchanges to its rivals, MPs were told today.
Appearing before a Trade and Industry select committee, rival operators including Cable & Wireless and Energis accused BT of exploiting its dominance in the local access market to secure itself a head start in the market.
The telcos said the combination of BT's "discriminatory behaviour" with industry regulator Oftel's "under-performance" is hindering their plans to invest and deliver DSL (digital subscriber line) services. Energis said it has been forced to scale back its plans for supplying high-speed internet services.
Anne Machin, head of carrier relations at Energis, said: "Our plans have certainly been scaled back. The difficulties and uncertainties we are having is making it very difficult to plan services. We are not pulling back and will go forward significantly, but less than we originally planned."
Energis's comments follow last week's decision by cable operators NTL and Telewest to scrap plans to offer ADSL (asymmetric DSL) services to consumers, choosing instead to concentrate on the rollout of their cable networks.
Global Crossing, WorldCom and KPNQwest are also reportedly putting plans to launch ADSL services on hold.
The operators also raised concerns that BT is deliberately withholding information that the operators need before they can offer DSL services. Cable & Wireless said while it is hard to prove BT is deliberately obstructing unbundling, it said the telco has "done very little to facilitate this process".
Emma Gilthorpe, Cable & Wireless's vice-president of public policy in Europe, suggested that BT has secured space in key exchanges while denying competitors access. She said her company's engineers had found evidence that BT fitted equipment in sites that had been blacklisted to rivals.
Late this afternoon (GMT), BT will appear before the Trade and Industry committee to reply to criticism from both rivals and Oftel. Last month, Oftel's director general David Edmonds received a roasting from the committee for the regulator's "lazy and complacent" approach to regulating BT.
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