UK telecoms customers are being denied access to competitive services, while elsewhere in Europe competition has taken off rapidly.
Even though the UK's telecom market was liberalised in 1996, regulator Oftel has kept a tight grip on competition, protecting BT's market share, Steve Wallage, principal analyst at Dataquest, told attendees at the annual Dataquest Predicts conference in Paris this week.
Meanwhile, in other European countries where liberalisation only took place at the end of 1998, their markets have already overtaken the UK in the introduction of some key services, he claimed.
'Although the UK has a more competitive market and its regulat-ory environment is more developed, in other ways other countries have overtaken it,' said Wallage. He added that key services absent from the UK market but emerging in Europe are carrier preselection and an unbundled local loop.
With carrier preselection, a customer can chose to use an alternative carrier to complete a call over a BT phone without having to dial a prefix before each call. Unbundling the local loop gives alternative carriers access to BT's local phone networks.
'This has partly been a deliberate policy by Oftel. It perceived that some of these services would discourage infrastructure build,' said Wallage.
'There is a body of opinion that says Oftel has been slow to open up the market. You could argue that Oftel could have been tougher.'
Meanwhile, e-commerce is within a year of becoming a reality in Europe, according to Dataquest analyst Petra Gartzen. She maintained that although the European consumer e-commerce market has been lagging behind the US, it is gradually picking up and will reach the mass market in the next 12 months.
In an exclusive interview with PC Dealer, Gartzen claimed that the explosive growth in consumers connecting to the internet over the past year should continue through the millennium, with 35 million PCs in Europe already connected.
'At the moment, European consumer e-commerce has hit about the 12 per cent mark in the UK and Germany and you need at least 20 per cent to make it a viable distribution channel,' she said.
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