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US-UK broadband trade war threat recedes

'Warning shots across the bow'

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Britain and the US aren't about to enter a bloody trade war over policies designed to bar foreign companies from competing in Britain's fledgling broadband Internet market. In true "peace in our time" style, The Register has won the assurance from a spokesman at the US Trade Representative (USTR) that the earliest it would lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would be spring 2001. By then, of course, it would hardly be worth doing since local loop unbundling (LLU) would only be a matter of months away. The threat of a trade war reared its ugly head yesterday following a report by Communications Week International which said that the Office of the USTR was considering lodging a complaint against Britain over access to BT's local network for third-party ADSL service providers. The story quoted a report published earlier this month, which said the USTR was to review UK actions to open its market to competitive suppliers of Digital Subscriber Lines. Ambassador Barshefsky of the USTR said: "We welcome the proposal of the European Commission that all EU Member State regulators require unbundling and line sharing for competitive entry of DSL service. "We call upon the United Kingdom to implement this recommendation immediately, consistent with its WTO commitment to allow reasonable and non-discriminatory access to BT's networks for suppliers of all telecommunications services." The USTR was reacting to a complaint from US-based broadband outfit, Covad Corporation, which alleged the current situation regarding ULL granted BT an "effective monopoly on the supply of ADSL service until July 1, 2001". Covad alleged that this was in violation of Britain's market access and national treatment commitments and was inconsistent with the Britain's obligations under WTO membership. In effect, it claimed the current rollout timetable would give the monster telco a year's head start in installing ADSL equipment compared to its competitors. A spokesman for the USTR told The Register today that no complaint had been lodged and that none was imminent. "This is a shot across the bow," he said. The USTR will assess the progress of local loop unbundling in Britain and make further recommendations in April 2001, when it next publishes its annual review of telecommunications trade agreements. ®

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