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Events in telecommunications history

1947

An Anglo-Dutch polythene coaxial cable was laid.

Cable & Wireless Ltd. was nationalised on 1 January by the Treasury's purchase of the company's shares, and by the Post Office's acquisition of the company's telecommunications assets in Britain (with the exception of its telegraph cables and terminal station at Porthcurno), including the return of the wireless stations previously leased to the company in 1929.

From that date Cable & Wireless operated no telecommunications services in the UK until 1982, and conducted its overseas business as an independent entity entirely separate from the Post Office. In many ways, nationalisation did not dramatically affect the way the company operated. Successive Governments left it largely to its own devices, though with strict limits on its ability to spend and expand. Government control of its day-to-day affairs was limited to Treasury oversight of its investment plans and the appointment from time to time of Post Official officials to the company's board of directors. From 1974 the company was allowed rather more commercial freedom, so long as it agreed to consult with the Government over any major programmes which might be politically or financially sensitive.

With the election of a new Conservative Government in 1979, committed to the withdrawal of state intervention in industry and the free market philosophy, a new approach was inevitable. In July 1980 Sir Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Industry, outlined plans for privatising Cable & Wireless in his policy statement which announced the Government's plans for restructuring the Post Office and liberalising the telecommunications market. In November 1981, following the passing of the British Telecommunications Act which created British Telecom as a public corporation separate from the Post Office, Cable & Wireless was privatised with the sale of 50 per cent of its shares. There were further sales of Government shares in November 1983 and December 1985.

In 1981, Cable & Wireless was a member of the consortium which set up Mercury Communications Ltd., which was to be British Telecom's only competitor in the UK until the ending of the so-called "duopoly" in the provision of telecommunications services in 1991. Mercury subsequently became involved in setting Cable & Wireless Communications with Nynex, Bellcable Media and Videotron.

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