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Pressures to centralise
For most of its life, the British telecommunications industry was dominated by government control. The move to centralise direction began with regulation of the telegraph in the 1860s, and then its nationalisation.

The telephone too was quickly brought under regulation and, following a take-over of the national trunk network, the telephone ended up almost entirely in the hands of the state as well in 1912. It would remain under government control until the 1980s. The reasons for that were practical, political - and strategic.

Even now, in the privatised era, the strategically essential nature of telecommunications means that the government still cannot quite keep its hand off the tiller.
Pressures to economise
The problem with a state-owned telecommunications network was that it was hostage to national fortunes. Britain ended the Second World War virtually bankrupt. There was little money in the public coffers to pay for post-war reconstruction - and almost none to spend on growing the telephone network.

Although Treasury spending limits had had a minor impact on growth since the government took over the telegraph in 1870, this serious restriction would visibly hold back the development of British telecommunications for the next 35 years.
Pressures to privatise
As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, shortcomings state-owned telecommunications became increasingly apparent. The 'one size fits all' approach became increasingly irrelevant to people's domestic and business needs. Something else was needed.

There was also a big change in the political climate, with the election of a government committed to returning state industries to the private sector. Telecommunications was the first to be dealt with, with Cable & Wireless and then British Telecom being 'privatised'

This meant taking the network out of government hands and making it a business - freed from Treasury spending limits - but exposed to free market forces.
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Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

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