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UK Govt to investigate BT

Have the turkeys finally come home to roost?

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The British Government is to investigate BT amid concerns the monster telco has failed to respond sufficiently to moves to open up its network to competition.

According to the Times, Lord Haskins - affectionately called the 'red tape czar' - will lead an investigation next month which will, no doubt, focus on the telco's bid to unbundle the local loop.

He is to look at complaints that the cost of telecoms services, including mobile and Net access, are simply too high and that BT has failed to loosen it grip on its dominant market position.

This latest twist in BT's fortunes comes less than a week after CEO, Sir Peter Bonfield, won the praise of an influential group of MPs who, according to the FT, "praised" him for "speeding up the unbundling process".

Indeed, telecoms watchdog, Oftel, is satisfied that BT has met all its criteria for local loop unbundling - the process of opening up BT's network to competition.

If this is the case, then it will only add further weight to critics who argue that the Government is meddling in the affairs of a private company. The last time it did it, Chancellor Gordon Brown managed to wipe off £2 billion from the value of BT shares.

That was in February when it was reported that Brown said he would cut the cost of Net access in Britain. In the event, he didn't. He merely voiced his desire to see costs come down and to speed up the unbundling of the local loop. But the combination of political spin and media hype cost investors dear.

Of course, any move against BT would be popular among many people, or "voters", as the Government likes to call them. Especially since there is a general election on the horizon.

No one was immediately on hand at BT to comment on the Times' story and we certainly didn't want to disturb anyone at home on Boxing Day.

So we asked BT's new "intuitive question and answering service" from Ask Jeeves, which is now available on BT.com.

Apparently, it can handle questions such as, "What is BT Together?", "What can SurfTime do for me?" and "What is the best way to pay my bill?".

But what's it like on something a bit tougher?
So we asked: "How will BT deal with a Government investigation?" "Does BT think the investigation is politically motivated" and "Does BT really stand any chance?"

Unfortunately, BT.com couldn't supply any answers. Not even when we gave it the chance to "ask the audience" and "phone a friend". ®

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BT shares tumble on false Brown Net cuts story

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