BT's rivals are upping the war of words against the UK's former telecoms monopoly ahead of this week's crucial deadline.
The UK's dominant fixed line telco has until February 3 to give its response to the regulator's demands for "substantive behavioural and organisational changes" within BT and the provision of equal access to its wholesale product range (aka equivalence). Failure to meet the demands set by Ofcom could result in an Enterprise Act investigation which could lead to the giant telco being split in two.
Speaking to the FT David McConnell, chairman of the UK Competitive Telecommunications Association (UKCTA) - a host of telcos including Cable & Wireless, Colt, Energis, NTL and Thus - said that although the industry wanted equivalence to work, there were fears that BT would try to stall. "The concern is that parts of the BT organisation will continue to prevaricate and delay: Ofcom and the industry must not allow itself to be dragged into endless detailed discussions as to what exactly 'equivalence' is," McConnell stated.
Indeed, in a letter to the Sunday Times McConnell said that the views expressed by BT boss Ben Verwaayen a week earlier "both raise alarm and present an incomplete picture of the current broadband market".
"Mr Verwaayen seems to be suggesting that if Ofcom was to reduce its regulatory burden, BT would be able to offer more wholesale broadband variants to 'communities outside the scope of LLU'. We could have welcomed this comment had he also in the same breath embraced the need for BT Wholesale to treat all retail broadband providers equally, in other words, commit his organisation to true competition. UKCTA, Ofcom and British consumers are demanding, quite rightly, nothing less.
He went on: "As history has shown time and again, consumer choice and product innovation depends on the presence of sustainable market competition. What is needed are improved wholesale telecom services that all retail players - not just BT - can use and offer to potential customers. In other words, Ofcom needs to ensure genuine equality of access, not an inequality between BT and its competitors."
Last week Ofcom boss Stephen Carter warned has once again that BT's failure to restructure its business and open up its market to genuine competition would make an enforced structural split of the company a "real possibility". ®