Telco watchdog Oftel is to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the progression of the unbundling of local telephone networks. Companies haven't been as eager as Oftel thought to lease lines from BT.

Oftel laid down unbundling guidelines to BT last year, after determining the telco had a strangehold over UK phone lines. It said BT must upgrade the local loop, the copper wires that run from local exchanges to homes, to handle new broadband digital services for faster internet connections. But rival companies have shown hardly any interest.

Twenty-five former BT exchanges have been made available, yet only 14 competitors have come forward.

“All companies involved have been called into today’s meeting,” said Louise Marriage, spokesperson for Oftel. “As yet we are unsure what concerns have been raised.”

The emergency meeting was called to determine why, despite BT's efforts to separate the infrastructure ownership and service delivery over the local loop network, competitors are staying away. "We'd anticipated more demand. Specifically, [they're discussing] why there hasn't been much demand," Marriage said.

When asked if competitors felt that BT's terms and conditions where unattractive, Marriage said: "I don't know if they do, but if they have a problem with [BT and its pricing], this is the opportunity for them to tell us."

Oftel gave BT a deadline of July 2001 to unbundle the local loop. But the European Parliament said in October last year that unbundled services should be available in all of the European Union by January 2001.

Perhaps competitors are concerned over the costs of placing equipment into BT exchanges. Oftel believes that this figure could be as much as £60,000.

Many small companies have been scared off, with Versatel of the Netherlands pulling out of the process completely.

BT was unavailable to dispel concerns that they are dragging the process out until the results of today’s meeting are made public.