The UK's Crappy Broadband Speeds is Another Thing You Can Blame on Thatcher

By Gerald Lynch on at

She brought down the miners and the unions, and it now seems that Margaret Thatcher also prevented the UK from becoming one of the world's leading digital economies by short-sightedly vetoing plans that would have made the UK one of the earliest fully-fibre equipped broadband territories around the globe.

In a fascinating piece over at TechRadar, Dr Peter Cochrane, former Chief Technology Officer at BT, explains how The Iron Lady, fearing a BT monopoly, halted plans to affordably roll out fibre-to-the-home connections nationwide. In the early 1990s!

In 1974 it was patently obvious that copper wire was unsuitable for digital communication in any form, and it could not afford the capacity we needed for the future [...] In 1979 I presented my results and the conclusion was to forget about copper and get into fibre. So BT started a massive effort - that spanned in six years -- involving thousands of people to both digitise the network and to put fibre everywhere.

Cochrane's team had two factories dedicated to the fibre roll out, ready to work on a scale that would have made the process of connecting up the nation both affordable and quick. But ruling BT's moves anti-competitive, and looking to encourage American cable companies to invest in the UK, Thatcher's stance made the project unsustainable and the plug was pulled in 1991.

BT's expert team parted ways, with assets and expertise shipped off to South East Asia. You need only look at the vastly-superior broadband speeds of Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea to realise how damaging this decision has proved to be. While South East Asian territories enjoy speeds that make BT's Infinity packages (and the fibre options of its competitors, too) seem quaint, the UK now looks to have 90 per cent of its homes on a laughable "super-fast" connection of just 24Mbps by 2017. [TechRadar]

Image Credit: Hon. Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister, speaks on July 1, 1991 in London from Shutterstock.com