Global Economics

Britain Reaches Broadband Milestone


BT broadband lines that have been "unbundled," or rented to other service providers, will number 1.5 million by the end of the week

The UK's broadband industry will hit a key target by the end of this week, when 1.5 million lines will have been unbundled.

Local loop unbundling (LLU) is a process whereby telecoms operators other than BT provide voice and data services to homes and businesses using BT's infrastructure.

Steve Robertson, the chief executive of Openreach - the business unit established within BT to manage the LLU process - said the achievement is "a tribute to a great deal of hard work and investment, by the whole Openreach team and by our LLU customers". He added that Openreach would spend around £1bn this year on "improving the access network still further".

Peter Black, the telecoms adjudicator appointed to keep an eye on Openreach's progress, said the announcement represented an "industry milestone", and praised the industry for "stepping up" to the challenge. "We consider that our job in the OTA [Office of the Telecoms Adjudicator], as far as LLU is concerned, is now complete," he said. "Our original vision was to deliver a million lines in 2006 - we feel we've delivered that and are now helping to deliver other things."

The OTA will now concentrate on making it easier for customers to swap between ISPs.

For BT, the milestone means greater commercial freedom, as it will now be allowed to alter how much it charges smaller ISPs who resell its IPStream product. In November last year the company suggested it might reduce the rental charge by nine per cent, with further cuts to follow in early 2008. However, a spokesperson for BT today refused to comment on what the telco would do with its new-found "freedom", which it would have achieved anyway halfway through this year under the terms of agreements made last year.

The unbundling process has not been without its problems, as BT has repeatedly failed to hit its "right-first-time" quality targets. Black noted that the success rate is climbing - particularly with "shared unbundling" - but remained below par for fully unbundled lines.

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