UK telecoms industry regulator Oftel is threatening action over the high cost of Internet access, as it reacts to criticism that it has allowed British Telecom (BT) to stifle Internet growth in the UK.

On Friday, Oftel widened its campaign, to include Internet access for the home and small business users. Its move follows a recent study showing that UK rates for peak-time access are the highest in Europe.

Oftel's new inquiry investigates whether increased competition in the sector has resulted in lower charges for end-users.

In a BBC News Online interview, an Oftel spokesman said: "Oftel wants to see prices for Internet access in the UK compare favourably against the UK’s competitors."

Oftel aims to complete the inquiry by May 2001. The regulator has also set a January deadline for BT to open up the local loop, which will enable competing telecoms companies to make use of BT’s IT infrastructure.