BT GROUP suffered another blow to its dominance of the UK telecoms market yesterday when industry regulators announced yet more rules governing the former monopolist's operations.
Having watched its traditional fixed-line business undermined by alternative operators, it has also seen its mobile phone business swept away by its own shareholders who forced its demerger as a condition of supporting the group's pounds 6bn rescue rights issue in 2001.
Now the industry regulators, Oftel and Ofcom, soon to be known just as Ofcom, have announced proposed regulations for broadband internet access which will ultimately leave BT facing even greater competition in this fast-growing area.
At the heart of the proposals are new price controls on what BT can charge competing network operators, such as Cable & Wireless and Thus, for access to BT's telecoms network.
Rivals like C&W need access to BT's infrastructure in order to offer competing telecoms services to internet providers such as AOL and Freeserve.
Without price controls being slapped on BT, the regulators are worried that choice, access and value in broadband Britain will be undermined.
At first sight the regulatory proposals for the Wholesale Broadband Access Market appear dreadfully dull and of little importance to consumers. But behind the dry-as-dust terminology and boring regulator-speak, quite the opposite is true.
If consumers are ever going to see the fruits of Tony Blair's famous Broadband Britain speech, in which the Prime Minister spelt out a vision of a country going about its e-business at high speed to the envy of the world, then yesterday's regulatory musings are crucial.
Not surprisingly perhaps, those companies who stand to benefit from the regulators' desire to see BT's dominance diluted reacted angrily to yesterday's proposals, claiming they did not go far enough.
BT, in turn, warned the regulators not to forget the crucial role it still has to play in meeting the Government's broadband dream, calling for a balance to be struck between risk and reward.
Ultimately, however, the new rules should mean cheaper and better broadband access for consumers and greater competition for BT.
As with the provision of fixed-line telephone services, the regulators want to make sure there is plenty of competition in the provision of internet access and especially the very sexy broadband version. At the moment, the regulators feel BT has it too much its own way.
David Edmonds, the director general of Oftel, said: "These proposals will address a competition deficit. They will bring clarity and predictability to a strategically important and distinct market, enabling other network operators to compete effectively against BT and, in turn, leading to greater choice and value for the consumer."
The regulators said BT had been found to have significant market power in this area that raised serious competition issues.
Stephen Carter, the chief executive of Ofcom who will become the supreme regulator of telecoms and media at the end of the month, said: "Broadband Britain needs broadband competition at the wholesale level as well as the retail level. Ofcom believes that these proposals will create the right balance of certainty, alternative supply and incentives to invest."
To most consumers there probably already seems to be a lot of competition among internet providers. Whether you use BT itself or AOL, Freeserve or Tesconet there doesn't seem to be a shortage of services to choose …