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Britain avoids LLU crisis

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There is no crisis in the UK concerning the slow progress of local loop unbundling (LLU).

Although views were mixed, a majority of those industry figures taking part in the "Crisis Summit" at the Last Mile Europe Conference in London yesterday stopped short of saying that the UK was experiencing a full-blown crisis.

The straw poll came at the beginning of yesterday's meeting, described in the Last Mile Europe conference programme as a way to plot a "route out of the current crisis faced by carriers and service providers in the last mile".

Although a majority of those present felt there wasn't a full-blown crisis, many expressed concerns and frustrations about LLU. Some suggested that the UK could still be plunged into a perilous state unless some issues, such as the regulatory environment, were resolved.

Instead, there seemed to be a general agreement that broadband Britain - LLU included - was in its infancy. In time, broadband services would be made more widely available and more cheaply.

Earlier in the day David Brown, chairman of management consultancy Schema, told delegates that the worst of the delays which have hampered the deployment of local loop unbundling (LLU) in Britain were over.

He said the slow progress of LLU (the UK only has 163 unbundled lines out of a total of 35 million phone lines) was due to the sheer complexity of the task facing those involved. And the cost of LLU had been under-estimated, a fact borne out by the number of operators which have pulled out of the race to deliver digital services direct to customers.

Addressing the role of BT, Brown said that it was only natural for incumbents to give up their major assets slowly and with a struggle.

Said Mr Brown: "The worst delays are over. Most of the key barriers have been broken down."

Looking ahead, he said the future for broadband services - unbundled or not - looks promising. Quoting research carried out by Schema he said that the interactive consumer market in Western Europe could be worth $38 billion by 2005.

Whether this is enough incentive for operators to continue investing in LLU remains to be seen.

Richard Greco, the head of Bulldog Communications and one of the few operators still involved in LLU, seems convinced that there is a future.

He told delegates that Bulldog was "not discouraged" by the slow take-up of broadband in Britain so far and said it would be between three and five years before broadband becomes a mass-market proposition. ®

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