TELECOM 99: Local loop access becomes hot topic

Unbundling local access to communications networks is going to remain a burning hot topic for some time among telecommunications companies and regulators, according to several top officials at Telecom 99.

Unbundling local access to communications networks is going to remain a burning hot topic for some time among telecommunications companies and regulators, according to several top officials at Telecom 99.

"This is one of the hot topics," said Alcatel chairman Serge Tchuruk today, in his opening remarks at the Policy and Regulatory Summit running here in parallel with the Telecom 99 trade show.

Despite widespread deregulation among telecommunications carriers worldwide, former monopoly carriers are still loathe to give up their control over the local phone network, Tchuruk said. It accounts for some 70% of their investment and operating costs, and represents a valuable contact to the end user, he said.

Legal issues still remain to be tackled on how to give alternative carriers access to the terminating facilities, Tchuruk said.

Erkki Liikanen, the European Commissioner responsible for technology, in a speech here yesterday hinted that there may be legislation coming to require unbundled access to local phone networks in Europe.

Despite market liberalisation, the former national monopolies still dominate these networks, Liikanen said, praising member states who have required their incumbents to unbundle the local loop.

Giving equal access to alternative carriers in other emerging areas such as cable television or fiber-optic networks is an even thornier issue, Alcatel's Tchuruk said.

With the local phone network, he said, unbundling access is more straightforward as former monopoly carriers can let alternative carriers service a single customer's line. But when end users share a medium, such as in cable networks, the topic of unbundling access becomes more complicated, Tchuruk said. "It is impossible to do physical unbundling of the access," he added.

In Europe, many incumbent carriers are in the process of selling off their cable assets, either voluntarily or with a nudge from regulators who are concerned that carriers with control of the local phone network must not have too much power in also controlling cable networks.

(Elizabeth de Bony and Jana Sanchez contributed to this report).

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