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BT appoints phone Czar

'Arranging deckchairs'

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BT has appointed a director of Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) to liaise with the industry and regulator Ofcom concerning the development of a genuine wholesale voice telephony service.

At the moment, many rival telephone services such Tele2 One.Tel and Centrica already provide alternative phone services to some 4.5m end users. While these telcos bill customers for the time they spend chatting on the phone, BT still bills these customers for rental of their phone line.

WLR lets phone operators rent the line that connects a customer's premises with the local exchange. It enables an operator other than BT to "own" the line and charge punters for calls and line rental in one bill.

The appointment of Rob Sanders, who's been with BT for 11 years, as BT's "WLR Czar" is meant to show that the telco is serious about competition.

Said Paul Reynolds, BT Wholesale chief exec, in a statement: "Applying the focus of experienced, senior BT managers reflects BT's commitment to a competitive market and will ensure that our...WLR offering is fit for purpose and compelling for industry."

Critics claim this is utter tosh. Earlier this week, BT was fingered by the UK's top competition court for using "dirty tricks" to try and hang on to customers who want to leave the telco for another phone operator.

And WLR has failed to take off so far because it is too costly for rival operators and plagued by administrative difficulties. The service is not yet automated and relies too heavily on outdated BT manual processes that simply could not cope with the mass market adoption of WLR.

As a result, many in the industry remain sceptical that this appointment on its own will have any impact on the WLR market insisting it's just a bit of window dressing by BT. If BT is really serious about its "commitment to a competitive market" then it needs to get its house in order - or be forced to by a regulator prepared to wield a stick.

Said one well placed industry insider: "This is just arranging the deckchairs." ®

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