§ Mr. Neale
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what will be his policy under the powers contained in the British Telecommunications Bill in respect of the maintenance of private automatic branch exchanges; and whether he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
After considering carefully the many representations that have been made on this issue, the Government have concluded that the measures to relax the telecommunications monopoly should include competition in the maintenance of digital stored programme control—SPC—private automatic branch exchanges—PABXs. This will allow the future use and development of integrated voice and data equipment to proceed unhindered by what has repeatedly been represented as the inhibiting effect of the current British Telecommunications PABX maintenance monopoly on this important area of information technology. At the same time, we consider that in relation to this category of equipment it should be possible for BT to develop the means to discharge its essential function of safeguarding the integrity of the network by remote testing.
My right hon. Friend accordingly intends, under the liberalisation arrangements to be introduced following passage of the Bill, to provide that digital SPC PABXs may be privately maintained. This will apply to all such equipment, of approved design, which is installed after the date when PABXs generally are liberalised. It will be subject to maintenance contractors being approved to ensure their technical competence and ability to offer a countrywide service; to BT having the right to review the control software programme of the PABXs concerned to enable BT to safeguard the network; and to BT having the right to check the equipment on its connection to the network and subsequently, if necessary, in operation.
Maintenance of other types of PABXs, and of all previously installed PABXs, will remain the exclusive responsibility of BT.