Telecoms regulator Oftel claims it is well ahead of the deadline set today by the European Commission (EC) for opening up local phone networks to competition.
The EC has proposed a draft law requiring European Union member states to unbundle their local telephone networks by 31 December 2000. However, full unbundling in the UK was not planned to be available until July 2001.
But Oftel responded to the announcement today saying it is "well on schedule" to meet the December 2000 deadline, even if unbundled services wouldn't be widely available by then. BT said it is on course to meet Oftel's deadlines.
David Edmonds, director general of Oftel, said in a radio interview this morning: "I think we are actually four months ahead of the EU deadline. We've got trials starting in about six months; people are going to be able to order the new kit in the next two months."
An EC spokesman said once the regulation is adopted, it will by the end of the year become law in the UK for new entrants to be given access to the local loop. "The regulation will require incumbent operators to provide new entrants access to local networks by the deadline. Competitors can take action with the national court if this does not happen," he said.
Oftel said it would next month change BT's licence to force it to share its local networks. Competitors would be able to move equipment into BT's facilities starting in September and trials would start in January 2001. It said the previously talked about July 2001 deadline was "the deadline for when widespread availability of retail services should be available".
"With the proposal for BT's licence condition to require local loop unbundling to come into force from August, Oftel is confident that the legal framework will be in place well before the Commission's deadline of end of 2000," said Edmonds in a statement.
"Work has already been completed by the industry on the procedures for local loop unbundling, and operators will be able to place orders for locating equipment with BT from this September," he added.
A BT spokesman said the company is on course to meet the deadlines agreed with Oftel, and unbundled services would be working by 31 July 2001.
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