How Thatcher killed the UK’s superfast broadband before it even existed

1 minute read

I came across this article today that was actually published a couple of years ago. If you’re wondering why your broadband still tops out at around 76Mbps (unless you get Virgin Media), it’s because it’s ultimately restricted by the copper telephone cables running from the green DSLAM cabinet on your street to your house. In some cases, these wires are ancient and may even be made from aluminium, back when they were designed to carry just analogue voice and the quality of the cable did not matter as much.

As a result, your broadband is restricted to the capabilites of the VDSL2+ (and soon, protocol, which isre pushing what can be achieved over copper at distance to the limit. This is known as fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) since fibre optic cable only reaches the cabinet. The only long-term solution is to completely replace every last copper telephone cable with fibre optic cables, which is known as fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP). Fibre optic cables can offer multiple gigabits per second of bandwidth, even terabits per second in the case of the the largest undersea cables. It’s a long-term, once-in-a-generation solution too since you can upgrade your speeds simply by replacing the equipment at either end, no need to dig up the actual cable itself.

Turns out that the UK’s state-owned BT had a plan as far back as the early 1980s, before the internet was even a thing, to rip out all the copper cables and replace them with fibre optics, converting the entire telecommunications system to a fully digital and computerised system. This plan existed well before the likes of Japan, South Korea or Sweden started deploying fibre en-masse in the 1990s. Yet sadly, this plan was killed off by Thatcher, who decided it would be best for the private sector to handle telecoms infrastructure.

Just imagine, we could have gigabit broadband to every single house and business in the country by now…