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EDITIONS
Friday, 15 November, 2002, 09:22 GMT
BT drives broadband with new czar
Extract from BT's TV broadband campaign
BT has spent millions advertising broadband
BT has decided to appoint a new broadband supremo to oversee its high-speed internet access services.

The Chief Executive of BTOpenworld, Alison Ritchie, is taking on the title of Chief Broadband Officer and her role will be to oversee BT's policy on broadband developments across the whole of the telecoms giant.

As a long-serving member of BT, she will be considered as a safe pair of hands for such a role.

For the last 20 years she has had a variety of jobs inside BT, including product management, regulatory affairs, business services and government sales.

Enthusiasm

Alison Ritchie, Chief Broadband Officer for BT
Ritchie: Safe pair of hands
Before joining BTOpenworld she was Restructuring Project Director, in charge of co-ordinated the restructuring of BT which saw the company set up new divisions and spin off its mobile arm, rebranded as mm02.

She has seen BT transform itself from a monopolistic dinosaur to the modern communication firm it now portrays itself as.

Her enthusiasm for, and knowledge about, broadband have been obvious since she took the helm at BTOpenworld at the beginning of this year.

The firm has come a long way in a short time.

It was only four years ago that former BT chairman Iain Vallance shocked the industry by urging caution about broadband, describing it as a technology not fit for purpose.

Now broadband is never far from the lips from the senior executives of BT. Current chairman Ben Verwaayen says there are fortnightly meetings about how things are going.

Doubts

As well as setting up its own ISP offering both narrowband and broadband services to consumers and businesses, it also now offers a direct access broadband product via BT Retail.


What's clear is that Openworld is slowly but surely being wound down by BT

Freeserve statement
Now BT has decided that it needs a figurehead to oversee the development of the technology that it has put a good deal of investment behind.

In a statement Ms Ritchie expressed her delight at the new role.

"I am looking forward to the challenge of uniting efforts across the whole group to make our offer to customers even better," she said.

She will remain Chief Executive of BT Openworld, but will step aside from the day to day running of the ISP for fear of running foul of regulation that requires Openworld to operate at arms length from BT Group.

Not everyone is convinced that this is a happy situation.

"On the one hand BT says Alison Ritchie is, for regulatory reasons stepping aside from the day to day running of BT Openworld, and on the other that she is continuing as Openworld's Chief Executive. What's it to be?" asked a spokesman for Freeserve.

Needed sooner?

It has been suggested by Angus Porter, Managing Director of BT Retail, that Openworld could be forced to radically change if BT's direct broadband product does well.

The fact that Ms Ritchie has effectively jumped ship will not help rumours of the demise of Openworld said Freeserve.

"What's clear is that Openworld is slowly but surely being wound down by BT because Oftel is allowing it to get away with using its near monopoly in fixed line to establish dominance in broadband," said the ISP in a statement.

Broadband development in the UK has been far slower than in other European countries. Industry experts put a lot of this down to BT's reluctance to wholeheartedly embrace the technology in the early days.

It has now done something to address that but critics will say that a broadband czar was really needed several years ago when BT was at loggerheads with much of the broadband industry.


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