The Office of Telecommunications (Oftel) has announced that trials of local-loop unbundling will begin next year in four UK cities.

Unbundling the local loop is expected to liberalise the UK telecoms market, offering more choice, and better prices, to consumers. AOL’s Matt Peacock blames BT’s control of the local loop for the high prices AOL claims UK consumers are forced to pay the "majority telecoms holder" for Internet access.

Fourteen companies have been chosen to participate in the trials, beginning in January of next year in London, Edinburgh, Leeds and Belfast, Oftel said.

The companies must submit requests to incumbent local-loop operator BT to install their own equipment in BT's local exchanges in the trial areas, Oftel said.

From September 2000, operators will be able to place the first orders to rent space to co-locate equipment in BT's exchanges.

On receiving the orders from the 14 alternative operators, BT must begin construction of facilities to hold the operators' equipment. When the facilities are complete, operators can install their equipment in the exchanges and begin offering services from July 2001 at the latest, Oftel said.

The operators selected to carry out the trials are Colt Telecom, Cable & Wireless Communications, Easynet, Eircom, Energis, First Telecom, Global Crossing, Kingston Communications, MCI WorldCom, NTL, Telewest, Telinco and Thus (formerly Scottish Telecom).