Oftel has come under fire over its "almost farcical" handling of the local loop unbundling process.

In a report compiled by the Trade and Industry Committee telco watchdog is accused of not understanding technical issues involved in allowing companies other than BT to buy or lease phone lines between local exchanges and homes for internet and other services. This process is known as local loop unbundling, or LLU.

"We understand Oftel has had little experience of the practicalities of LLU and that some officers have not even visited a [telephone] exchange. The episode has shown up some weaknesses in Oftel's grasp of the technical issues involved," said the report.

Following months of talks between Oftel, BT and other operators and accusations that BT has been dragging its feet, the report questions Oftel's management of the whole process.

"This sorry tale does not suggest a high level of administrative competence among those involved," said the report.

Oftel has shunned the report.

"We are doing something that is completely new," said a spokesperson at Oftel. "We have therefore experienced problems we have not encountered before. But there are now lines available."

The Trade and Industry Committee's concerns will remain until Britain falls in line with other European countries that have successfully completed the LLU process.