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No break for BT broadband

Following the departure of BT's chief broadband officer, it will be down to the access services division to create competition in the market - there will be no holidays for anyone involved

So, farewell Alison Ritchie, BT's chief broadband officer. After clocking up nearly a quarter of a century's service at BT, she's unbundling her jobfor a year's travelling on a global loop with her husband. Sensible woman, we say.

Unlike the shock exit of Pierre Danon, former BT Retail chief executive, Ritchie's appears to be an amicable departure. And, while not exactly expected, it makes a lot of sense.

In truth, BT just doesn't need a chief broadband officer any more. With nearly six million ADSL users across the UK, and 99.6 percent of us connected to a broadband-enabled exchange, the job's a good 'un.

These figures underline the progress made since early 2002, when Ben Verwaayen pitched up at BT Centre and announced that BT was taking broadband seriously. Looking back, it's incredible that such a statement had to be made — it's as if the England cricket captain proclaimed a new-found enthusiasm for scoring runs — but Verwaayen's predecessors never got to grips with the importance and potential of broadband.

This brought its own challenges to the telecoms industry. Rivals who had complained that BT wasn't taking broadband seriously then moaned that it favoured its own Retail arm and kept doing its best to hamper the progress of local-loop unbundling. BT denied it all, although the evidence was occasionally pretty compelling. In the end Ofcom forced BT to offer to create an access services division.

Ritchie's role was to help BT hit its broadband targets and balance internal conflicts. These targets have been shattered, and the access services division — which should include representatives from Ofcom — is the new sheriff in town.

BT and the rest of the UK telecoms industry deserve praise for creating Broadband Britain. Now, the challenge is to allow greater competition to flourish so we can all milk the benefits of high-speed connectivity.

What we'd really like to see within BT is a chief competition officer rolling out a level playing field and ensuring a clean fight. It's never going to happen, so cross your fingers that this access services division can do the same job. There are going to be some tough battles ahead, and no one involved can look forward to a holiday.