The Friday interview: Sir Christopher Bland, BT Group

4 Aug 2006

The subject of this week’s interview is Sir Christopher Bland (pictured), chairman of BT Group.

As chairman of one of the world’s biggest telecom companies, what does the internet mean to you?

It is a permanent and inalienable feature of consumer and business life. Eleven years ago most office workers didn’t have email. Now you couldn’t work without it. Look at Google as a research tool. If you want to find out about me, just Google me. That’s permanent.

From previous interviews, you have been scathing about non-traditional telecom players like Skype and sceptical of eBay’s US$2.4bn buyout of Skype.

I haven’t been scathing about Skype; scepticism is just how I feel. I simply don’t understand ‘free’ as a sound business model and to pay US$2.4bn for a business with negligible revenues and no profit is difficult for me to understand.

Who should be responsible for Ireland’s broadband rollout: business or government?

Governments aren’t hugely effective providers of infrastructure; businesses can get the returns from broadband to make it happen. However, I believe governments have to intervene if the market won’t provide broadband. In areas of small but distributed populations like Ireland and Scotland it’s not economic for the market alone to provide broadband. If the market is inactive then it’s up to government policy to make it happen.

Ireland’s ongoing broadband problems are well documented. How urgent is it that this issue gets resolved?

One of Ireland’s great achievements was the construction of a dynamic economy based heavily on technology. It’s increasingly apparent to me that the lack of a strong broadband network will slow down that growth. Every dynamic economy in the world is going to have a thriving market based on competition in telecoms; in turn this requires local loop unbundling at attractive and fair prices.

By John Kennedy

Sir Christopher Bland will be one of the high-profile speakers at the forthcoming Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) annual conference at The Mansion House in Dublin on 19 October. For more information go to

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