Sir Iain Vallance is has been the chairman of British Telecom since 1987. He is not just a management fat-cat who was parachuted into office at the top. He has been part of BT since they were part of the Post Office. BT is the UK's largest telecom firm by far- they have a near-monopoly on land lines and a complete monopoly on the local loop. So, here is a man who should know a thing or two about communications technology. However, in the UK internet scene he is derided as the Lollipop Man1.

This is his own fault.

In november 1999, he launched an extraordinary attack on the internet, at the Telecommunication Manager's Association conference in Brighton. He said the internet is "in its infancy and not yet fit for purpose". In late 1999! But the most astonishing thing he told the conference of go-ahead comms professionals was that he saw BT's role in the new economy as that of a

"Lollipop man trying to restrain the over-exuberant children" and to "ensure that the crossing is made safely and in an orderly fashion".
BT's policy was explained as keeping the child-like public off-line until they said the internet was ready. This explains much, especially BT's current share price.

Update, 26th April 2001: Yesterday, Sir Iain announced his decision to resign from the BT board. He will remain with BT for a time as "president emeritus". He will be replaced by the chairman of the BBC board of governors, Sir Christopher Bland.
1 - A lollipop man is employed to help schoolchildren cross the road, and is so called because of the shape of the STOP sign they carry.

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