Much fun at BT, where Graeme "News Editor, that's me" Wearden makes an infrequent escape from the office and sits down at a round table discussion with CEO Ben Verwaayen to mark the five million user broadband milestone. BV is keen to use the opportunity to portray BT as the UK's leading and most enlightened exponent of the wonders of broadband, and to chive the rest of the industry for not sharing its vision and forward thinking. Hmm. Can this be the same BT we spent the latter years of the last decade furiously berating for dragging its feet over providing affordable broadband and its immense reluctance to take part in things like ISDN, flat-rate billing and local-loop unbundling?
There is some suspicion that the two companies might just be connected. That suspicion is shared by Ofcom. It's got a strategic review of telecommunications on the go, which has been described as "telling BT to mend its ways, or else". "Are you concerned by this?", says Wearden to Verwaayen
Not at all. "We've made a wonderful offer. It gives Ofcom the chance to create forward-looking telecoms regulation for the first time," said Verwaayen. "It's a wonderful opportunity for the industry to get on with life." Wearden duly scribbles this down. "So, do you think they'll accept your offer?" he asked, in the manner of a star-struck junior scribbler from Smash Hits asking Madonna whether the latest album is her greatest ever.
Yikes! Snarl! Good Ben has left the building: annoyed Ben is in da house. "I'm not answering such a ridiculous question! You'll have to ask them."
Blimey. That's a 'no' then, Ben.
The odd thing is, this isn't the first time a carefully framed, respectful question from the Weardenista has provoked Mr Verwaayen into a testy reply. Back in 2003 — at yet another round table, as it happens — our two protagonists locked horns over trigger levels to install broadband in local exchanges. This time, Graeme asked whether as the trigger levels were a bit high, it might not make sense to cut them — especially in places with a population of 1,100 and a trigger level of 700. Gnash! Growl! "We've got shareholders. We have to be commercially viable. We can't go round just cutting trigger levels if it isn't economic. Which it isn't."
Blimey. So that's a 'yes' then, Ben. Ben?
Yes. Shortly afterwards, the economics of the business were apparently reassessed and the trigger levels cut. Including those fulsome targets requiring all of the village, half the ducks on the pond and three-quarters of the skeletons in the churchyard.
We look forward to Ofcom's answer to our ridiculous question and, of course, our next round table with Ben.