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BTopenworld boss chats to The Reg

'If we're not in better shape in 3 months I'll be a very unhappy CEO'

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Andy Green is the CEO of openworld, BT's mass market Internet division that includes both dial-up and broadband operations. Appointed a year ago when BT announced a major restructuring programme, Green has overseen the commercial introduction of broadband and his business now boasts some 26,000 ADSL customers. Tim Richardson talks to him about the ongoing problems faced by openworld and his fears about heavy-handed industry regulation.

Andy Green is the first to hold up his hands and acknowledge that when it comes to customer service, his business could do better. He needs no reminding of the daily round of horror stories that arise from customers frustrated at how their ADSL experience - from ordering to installation - has been botched. He's familiar with the tales of lines passing and then failing tests and engineers not turning up to install kit or turning up on the wrong day.

"I get too many complaints," he admits. "I need to look after my customers better."

That's easy for him to say. But for someone who claims to take personal charge of replying to some of his operation's most hostile complaints, he can be in no doubt at the strength of feeling among some of his customers. It may be simple to say a few soothing words in the hope that this will stem the barrage of criticism that comes from being one of the whipping boys of the telecom and Internet industries. Question is, can he turn his good intentions into reality? That still needs to be seen. But he certainly does talk the talk of someone trying to impress.

"If we are not in substantially better shape in three months time I will be a very unhappy CEO," he says. What he will do if openworld is not in "substantially better shape" waits to be seen.

Of course, some of his problems are simply outside his control. Like other ISPs providing broadband ADSL, openworld can only get its wholesale products from one supplier. And since that supplier is a division of BT, to openly criticise them would be like a member of the British Royal Family openly attacking one of one her own.

Green is more tactful than that but does make it clear that his concerns are known within the monster telco and that he is looking for improvement.

"I have been really stroppy about this within the company," he says. "I am intolerant of customer failures."

Elsewhere, he's keen to point out that openworld really is a different operation. Green describes the openworld as a "Web company" that now has its own office as a base for the outfit's 420 staff. Symbolically, perhaps, the central London building that it is now the HQ for openworld is a former, now redundant, telephone exchange.

Asked to comment on newspaper speculation that openworld is to lose its status as a standalone BT business and be reintroduced within the core group, Green said: "Not as far as I am aware - but I believe that would be a daft idea."

Not so daft either is Green's claim that he is talking to a number of broadband satellite providers in a bid to offer an alternative to broadband over copper wire in a bid to meet the demand for broadband that exists outside of those DSL-enabled areas. Green hopes to be able to offer such a product within 18 months to two years.

By that time, of course, Britain could be on the verge of having a new all encompassing communications regulator (OFCOM) replacing five existing watchdogs. Details of this were laid out in the Communications White Paper published earlier this year but Green is concerned that the document has too many grey areas that might allow the new regulator to interfere in the Net.
He fears that if OFCOM goes unchecked the whole industry could suffer from "regulatory creep".

"We must be on our guard against the seepage of regulation on the Net," he says preferring instead a process of self- and co-regulation.

Which is reassuring for the long term. However, at the moment Green has more pressing matters to deal with as he battles to improve the customer experience of signing up to openworld. He says he's committed to the broadband revolution and committed to building a successful broadband business for BT. However, he needs to improve the experience for his customers first and only time will tell if he manages that. ®

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