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Brussels muscles in on BT universal service rules

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The European Commission has announced a review of the regulations that compel telcos to provide public call boxes that could lead to them being scrapped.

The move will be celebrated at BT, which has been lobbying for years to scale back its public latrine maintenance business.

Ofcom last published the results of a consultation on Universal Service Obligations (USOs) in March 2006. It said public call boxes were still essential for vulnerable and disabled people.

Despite this recent ruling, a Green Paper from Brussels calls for a "wide-ranging debate" on all obligations under USOs, which also include provision to low-income households and providing internet access at at least 28Kbit/s to rural areas.

Currently, local councils can veto any attempt by BT (or Kingston Communications in Hull) to remove the last phonebox in an area. BT told the Ofcom consultation this was unduly restrictive, since revenues had nosedived.

The USO agreement was a key part of the deal that saw BT go private in 1984 with an intact network monopoly. Since then competition has increased as other fixed-line operators have been allowed to use the lines, but who can choose to provide services only where most profitable. BT has also argued that mobile operators should share the cost of maintaining phone boxes. ®

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