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EDITIONS
Friday, 13 September, 2002, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
BT outlines broadband ambitions
Ben Verwaayen, BT Chief Executive
Verwaayen: Every inch the modern executive
Jane Wakefield

BT aims to become the Super Mario of the telecoms world, according to its Chief Executive Ben Verwaayen.

The telecoms giant is in the job of hi-tech plumbing, and just like the Italian video game hero, he is determined to make sure BT does it best, he told BBC News Online.

Mr Verwaayen's ambition is to put Britain at the top of the broadband league table.

"No subject is more important in this company. Broadband is discussed every fortnight," he said in an interview with online journalists.

No obligation

Waving aside studies which put Britain at the bottom of the European broadband league table, Mr Verwaayen said he was committed to putting his money where his mouth is.

BT tower and van
BT changing rapidly
"BT Retail will this autumn begin the largest broadband campaign ever.

"Everyone is focused on broadband. We will have one million customers by the summer of 2003. We will fulfil our commitment and it will see us at the top of the league," he said.

But industry watchers should be under no illusion about the role BT will play in the broadband revolution.

Mr Verwaayen is determined to ring the changes at the telco, sweeping away its image as a dinosaur in a hi-tech world.

"BT is no longer an institution with an obligation to bring technology to the UK. Our first obligation is to make sure it makes sense financially," he said.

Immature market

It is perhaps an irony not lost on him that BT chose a European (he is Dutch) to lead a company that has cut back its global ambitions to concentrate on its core UK business.

Change has been rapid at the newly focused company. When ex-BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland became the chairman last summer, rumours were rife that BT may be looking to add TV content to its portfolio.

Mr Verwaayen scotched those rumours.

"If you mix content and telecoms you are likely to get TV programmes that are too dull to talk of. We are absolutely not a TV or a content company," he said.


The next 12 months will bring clarity to where the plumbing ends and the dining room begins

Ben Verwaayen, BT
While he is adamant that BT will concentrate on providing the plumbing for broadband, content will be crucial.

And he admits that the dividing line between access and content has not yet fully been worked out.

"The market is not yet there in terms of maturity and what the boundaries of internet service providers are.

"It is still fuzzy what everyone's role is but the next 12 months will bring clarity to where the plumbing ends and the dining room begins," he said.

Changes ahead

BT's new product, Broadband Direct, should play a big role in clarifying things.

The radical new model for internet access - access without content or any other added-service - is bound to shake up the internet industry, including BT's own ISP Openworld.

Angus Porter, BT
Porter: Openworld will change
Unlike his colleague Angus Porter, Mr Verwaayen declined to speculate on the future for Openworld, preferring a more diplomatic answer.

"The market will decide the value of each service."

Mr Porter had previously told the BBC the ISP would have to change its nature if the new product proved a hit with customers. He also suggested it may merge with BT Retail down the line.

Mr Verwaayen sees no problem in offering competing products within the same company, believing it to be best to offer consumers choice.

"It is not about how we are going to twist the organisation of BT. Are we so monolithic that we only have one service?" he said.

Mr Verwaayen believes it might not even be content that drives take-up of broadband.

"Communication is the first driver. A killer application is never a pre-cooked meal invented by someone else," he said.

There is no question in his mind though that broadband is "the next thing in telecoms", opening up endless possibilities for consumers.

"It could allow individual participation in television. It will have an impact on how we deal with government and other companies. It combines productivity and lifestyle which together make it unstoppable," he said.

"To describe it just as today's world faster would be to sell it short of its potential," he went on.

In need of driving lessons?


What is the point of looking in the rear-view mirror when you are going forward?

Ben Verwaayen, BT
Given that hard sell, Mr Verwaayen's use for broadband is somewhat uninspired.

"I use it for high-speed internet access," he said.

Critics may point out that the enthusiastic rhetoric Mr Verwaayen has undoubtedly put behind the technology may need a little more substance than that.

Either way, Mr Verwaayen is doing a sterling job of laying to rest the ghosts of the past that have haunted BT for years.

He absolutely refused to be drawn about the telco's poor record on broadband.

"If you want to blame BT, then go ahead be my guest but as far as I'm concerned it is about price, availability and marketing and we are on a journey on all three elements," he said.

"What is the point of looking in the rear-view mirror when you are going forward?" he asked, a question that could worry any motorists encountering Mr Verwaayen on his broadband journey.

Moving forward quickly is one of his key messages on broadband. But as he himself admits; "Only time will tell how well we are doing."

See also:

09 Sep 02 | Technology
23 Aug 02 | Technology
30 Jul 02 | Technology
28 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


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