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‘I was a convenient scapegoat’ – Oftel boss

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Oftel has published a review of its work over the last 19 years - and it makes gripping reading.

The best bit of this glossy publication are the personal "reflections" by Oftel's four director general's as they assess their time as BT's regulator.

Take this, for example, from Bryan Carsberg, Oftel's first DG who served from 1984 to 1992.

"People were waiting months or years to get a telephone line," he recalls. You had to wait weeks to get your telephone line repaired. BT was expensive and inefficient. Modern technology was not being introduced as quickly as it should."

Bill Wigglesworth was only in the job for less than a year but even he has a tale to tell. While swimming while on his hols in the south of France he remembers: "A fellow came up to me and murmured quietly: 'I think you ought to have a look at the number portability software Kingston Communications is putting into its digital exchanges and compare it with BT's. My firm did both and the BT software has been deliberately designed to maximise the cost of moving to number portability'."

Don Cruickshank, used to work in the NHS before he took the job in 1993 for five years. "The Oftel situation was easy," he says. "Being accused of being combative with BT is much easier than having somebody stick a microphone in your face on a street in Edinburgh and ask 'Why are you killing babies in Falkirk?'"

And then there's David Edmonds - the current boss who took the job back in 1998. His reflection touches on the time when the world and his dog seemed to call on him to resign. He describes his battle with BT over local loop unbundling as "trench warfare"

Commenting on criticism that he had gone "soft" on BT he says: "I was the first European regulator to go down that route. At no time did we allow BT to thwart what we were doing. I was a convenient scapegoat in a period when some of BT's competitors were seeing their very, very thin business plans lapsing because of the environment."

He adds: "I would have been quicker, I would have cut corners, I would have been firmer with the industry. In retrospect, it took me too long to realise the need to drive swift decisions in compliance. But without the pressures of LLU, BT would not have rolled out broadband to the point at which the UK is now - one of the leading countries in Europe - with a range of service providers competing to offer broadband services."

So that's alright then. ®

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