Local loop unbundling – the use by competitor telecommunications operators of the incumbent’s lines from the customer’s premises to the trunk network – is seen as a way of opening residential and SME telecommunications markets to more competition by removing the effective monopoly of the owner of the ‘last kilometre’ of the telecommunications network. Vincent led the legal team at Oftel (then the UK telecommunications regulator) negotiating the first detailed implementation of the obligation on BT to offer unbundled local loops for competitor use. Negotiation (and, ultimately, determination) of the terms for supplying them – service levels, terms of access to BT exchanges, provisioning timescales, dispute resolution – formed the core of his work on the project. Local loop unbundling now supports a significant proportion of the UK’s broadband services, with over 7 million unbundled loops being used in this way.
In April 2011 the UK exemption in relation to land agreements was repealed leaving many restrictions over land subject to competition law for the first time. Restrictive covenants, such as those contained routinely in commercial developments for shopping malls and in outdoor advertising agreements are all likely to be affected. The review of land agreements to determine the enforceability of such restrictions (and their ability to attract fines) will be important exercise in understanding any risks posed by them for many businesses.