Local network lines in the UK won’t be unbundled before July, the UK telecom regulating body, Oftel, has revealed.

Oftel director of technology, Peter Walker, made the statement yesterday at the Beyond Networks industry conference in London.

Walker was responding to calls by UK politicians and business leaders here and abroad to bring forward the Oftel deadline imposed on BT for unbundling - or leasing out parts of - local network lines, known as the "local loop".

"Oftel is not holding back. In our judgement it is as fast as BT can go," Walker said.

Last November, Oftel declared BT had a monopoly of local network lines and directed BT to lease the local loop. Oftel also said BT must upgrade the loop to handle broadband digital services for faster Internet connections, to encourage competition.

Saying that some calls for an earlier deadline were "political" in nature, Walker told attendees that BT needed time to set up systems to run the new services. "We are not delaying unbundling. This is a very challenging program," Walker said.

Oftel expects BT to "launch most of its ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) products" by June 2000, and testing of the unbundled loop will begin in the third quarter, Walker said.

Last month Gordon Brown called for the deadline to be moved ahead in order to speed up the UK’s entrance into the e-commerce market.

Walker also said that the industry expressed little interest in unbundling the loop when Oftel first proposed the idea in the mid-1990s or when BT first proposed an ADSL trial in London in 1998. "ISPs (Internet service provider) really weren't interested in working with BT on the trial," Walker said. Many ISPs attending the conference disagreed with this statement.