The dream of a Digital Britain: the proposal to renationalise British Telecom in the 1980s

Deshpande, Advait (2012). The dream of a Digital Britain: the proposal to renationalise British Telecom in the 1980s. In: British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) Postgraduate Conference 2012, 4-6 Jan 2012, Coventry, UK.



In the late 1980s, to reduce the partly privatised British Telecom's (BT) market dominance, Office of Telecommunications (OfTel) prohibited BT from offering TV services on its main network. Consequently, BT held back the rollout of optical fibre in the access network, citing inability to recoup its investment.

In 1989, fearing that Britain would lag behind in the optical fibre race, sections of the Conservative government wanted to renationalise BT to rollout a nationwide optical fibre network. Labour, the main opposition party even stated its intent to revert BT to government control in a 1990 policy document.

Although the Conservatives remained in power, a recession in the early 1990s and the prohibitive cost of renationalising BT meant remaining Government stake in BT was sold to complete its privatisation. However, the OfTel restrictions on BT from offering TV services remained until 1999 and the optical fibre rollouts by BT largely focussed on the core network.

This paper looks at the intrigue involved in the proposed renationalisation of BT and examines the motivations of the participating groups. It also reflects on the role of regulation in a liberalised economy and assesses the impact of the events on the dream of a Digital Britain.

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