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BT Announces Further Plans for Local Loop Unbundling

British Telecom has put forward a new plan for progress in local loop unbundling - the deregulation of last-mile broadband connections - with the aim of delivering widespread broadband availability earlier than previously scheduled. The plan provides for 600 of BT's 6000 local exchanges to be unbundled - or opened to private competition -- between January and June 2001.

However, the British telecommunications industry was not impressed with the plan - presented at a forum hosted by U.K. telecom regulatory body Oftel -- to unbundle just 10 percent of the national carrier's exchanges. Moreover, many contest the plan's stipulation that some third-party switching equipment be housed in buildings near BT's own exchanges, rather than within those exchanges.

BT maintains that using "distance location" - physically sitting operators' equipment in nearby buildings and connecting it by tie cable to BT's main distribution frames -- will allow unbundling to progress faster, as some exchanges have insufficient space to pack in all of the operators who have expressed interest in providing broadband services. Operators will be allowed to place equipment in only 190 of the 600 "open" BT exchanges.

In a statement to Reuters, Nigel Pitcher, marketing director of Fibernet Plc, said BT was effectively opening only 190 exchanges. "We were not surprised at their apparent reluctance,'' he said.

Anne Lambert, Oftel's director of operations, stated that Oftel would publish a method to determine a priority system for unbundling the exchanges. Lambert also stated that criteria would be determined to identify and allocate suitable space. Lambert, however, believes that space is a genuine problem in only a small number of exchanges.

Lambert also stated that she expects BT will be unbundling exchanges at the rate of 200 per month beginning in July of this year.

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