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BT's broadband officer moves on

After 24 years hard labour at BT Alison Ritchie can look forward to parole, leaving a Broadband Britain that is vibrant but facing new hurdles

Alison Ritchie, BT's chief broadband officer is leaving the company — an indication that the drive to build Broadband Britain has been replaced with a new set of challenges.

BT announced on Tuesday that Ritchie, a 24-year BT veteran and one of the main players in BT's broadband strategy in recent years, would leave in September to go travelling.

Ritchie became BT's first chief broadband officer in November 2002, after chief executive Ben Verwaayen was appointed and promptly made broadband a top priority for the telco.

Ritchie's role was to help BT increase the take-up and availability of broadband. Verwaayen has received the lion's share of credit for BT's conversion to broadband after the dark days of 2000 and 2001, but statistics suggest both that Ritchie did a good job — and that there's little more for her to do.

There are now close to 6 million ADSL broadband users in the UK, compared to 500,000 in late 2002, while 99.6 percent of homes and businesses are connected to a broadband-enabled exchange, compared to 66 percent in 2002.

"My last role was all about championing broadband both within BT and outside the company and I'm proud that the broadband market is now so well established. This means that my specific role has now come to a natural end, and so I've decided it's time to do something different," said Ritchie in a statement.

BT is not expected to appoint a new chief broadband officer in Ritchie's place. Industry experts have suggested that such a role isn't needed, partly because of the ongoing broadband boom, but mainly because of the new regulatory landscape developed by Ofcom.

BT has offered to set up a new Access Services devision, to ensure that its rivals get full and fair access to its network on the same terms as BT Retail.

"Alison Ritchie spent a lot time liaising between Retail and Wholesale, and that won't be needed once the Access Services division is set up," explained one source, suggesting that Ofcom has effectively made her role redundant.

One ISP suggested that Ofcom's work making local-loop unbundling more attractive means there is now less need for a broadband champion within BT. Telcos and ISPs such as Cable & Wireless, Easynet and Wanadoo are all unbundling BT's local exchanges and installing their own equipment, while AOL is planning to do so.