Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX %u201CC%u201D: THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE TELEPHONE IN ENGLAND - Where and Why Public Ownership has Failed
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APPENDIX %u201CC%u201D: THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE TELEPHONE IN ENGLAND - Yves Guyot, Where and Why Public Ownership has Failed 
Where and Why Public Ownership has Failed, trans. H.F. Baker (London: Macmillan, 1914).
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THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE TELEPHONE IN ENGLAND
To anyone who has had practical experience of the United States telephone service, resulting from private enterprise, the inferior condition of the English service excites no wonder. The history of the telephone in the United Kingdom during the past 30 years has been a lamentable tale of bureaucratic blundering, tolerated by a community which has failed to perceive the potential value of this method of communication and to insist upon its effective organization on a business basis. As the result of a short-sighted Government policy, of official mismanagement, and the parochial attitude of local authorities, the number of telephones per hundred of the population in Great Britain to-day is 1.4, as against 8.1 in the United States. London, the greatest city in the world, boasts 2.8 telephones for every hundred of its inhabitants, as against a percentage of 24.0 in Los Angeles.
One of the chief obstacles barring the way to satisfactory development of the telephone as a public utility has been the traditional conservatism of the Post Office and the fixed idea of protecting the Government's telegraph revenues against effective competition by the telephone. In 1889 the Postmaster-General (after declining to purchase the telephone patents) brought a suit to prevent the Edison Company from establishing telephone exchanges in London, as constituting an infringement of his telegraph monopoly. Successful administration of an industrial enterprise like the telephone requires vigilant initiative and elasticity.
PRIVATE ENTERPRISE IN AMERICA
In America the possibilities of the telephone as a time-saving and labor-saving invention were better realized from the outset. Thanks to the intelligence, foresight, and public spirit of Mr. Theodore N. Vail, founder of the telephone enterprise in the United States and still president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, the business has been steadily built up with high ideals of organized efficiency and civic duty. Mr. Vail's ambition was, and is, “that every person, firm, or company in the United States that ought to have a telephone shall be provided with one, and that any person so provided, wherever he may be located, can within a reasonable time be connected to the telephone of any other subscriber and talk satisfactorily.” For 30 years work has been steadily carried on with this ideal in view, and with marvellous results. At the International Telephone and Telegraph Conference held in Paris in September, 1910, the chief engineer of the company summarized some of these results as follows:
In the plans which we have made for New York and for the other cities in America it has been found, all things considered, most economical when building new subways to plan for a period somewhere between 15 and 20 years ahead.
Our expenditure for new construction during the first six months of 1910 is more than $21,000,000.
The fundamental plans for New York, not including the vast suburban region outside of the municipal limits of Greater New York, provided in 1900 for a system of 51,398 telephone stations, served from 52 central offices, with an estimated population of 4,800,000. In 1930 the plans provide for 2,142,000 stations, to be served from 109 central offices, with an estimated population of 8,800,000.
At the present time an enormous amount of toll line business takes place between New York City and the territory tributary to it for 30 miles around. In 90 per cent. of this business the connexion is made in an average of 38 seconds. In all of these cases the transmission conditions are so planned that the subscriber may converse with ease. A local call is accomplished in less time, requiring only 22 seconds where but one office is involved, and slightly more between two offices.
Between cities as far distant from each other as New York, Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia, “Good talking with prompt connexions” by underground cables is the regular rule, while communication by phantom loaded overhead circuits has been extended as far west as Denver, distant 2,200 miles from New York.
RESULTS OF EFFICIENT SERVICE
There is no doubt that the superiority of the American system has been attained in a great measure by administrative ability in its organizers and the wide field of opportunity, with few serious obstacles of competition, in which they have worked. Their outlook has been steadily national, not parochial. They have realized that defective telephone communication is, in every sense, bad business, and that the factors constituting good service, in the order of their importance, are (1) speed and accuracy in securing connexions; (2) volume and clearness of sound transmitted, and (3) cost. They have realized that the money value of the time and temper wasted by the public over a bad service is a far more serious consideration than any reasonable charges imposed for a good one, and they have therefore proceeded on the principle that speed and reliability are more important than cheapness. Furthermore, Mr. Vail's civic ideals have been applied, with loyalty and enthusiasm, throughout. Esprit de corps, and a spirit of emulation between exchanges are encouraged to the utmost. One of the best features of the telephone business, as organized in America, is the public appreciation of the staff's keenness, its “team work,” and pride in efficiency.
Under such conditions the public service retains its human interest—no small factor in smooth working—and the “telephone habit” becomes easily explicable. In January, 1911, the number of telephones in New York was equal to the combined totals of London, Paris, and Berlin.
FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL
In Great Britain the history of telephone legislation has persistently reflected the vacillations of immature opinion, strengthened by the attitude of permanent officials of the Post Office and the Treasury. The situation to-day is the result of years of laisser-faire, improvidence, and vacillation. Its economic defects and inadequate equipment are the natural consequences resultant from the National Telephone Company's inability, as the expiry of its franchise drew near, to provide for expansion of service and renewal of plant. The economical construction of new underground cables alone involves plans and estimates for a period somewhere between 15 and 20 years ahead. Further causes of disorganization lie in the relaxation of discipline and esprit de corps consequent upon the transfer of the telephone company's personnel to the Post Office; in the jealousies and friction between old employees and new, all tending to impair smooth working; above all, in the technical telephone staff's recognition of the fact that under the cast-iron, water-tight compartment system of Post Office tradition there is little or no scope for intelligent individual initiative and scant prospect of applying business methods to the development of what should be a rapidly expanding commercial undertaking, managed by the best technical and financial talent obtainable.
There are many experts qualified to speak with authority on this question who share the views expressed by Lord Desborough, as president of the London Chamber of Commerce, on May 18, 1911.
Many chambers of commerce besides the London Chamber, he said, had discussed the subject, and they were unanimously of opinion that it would be very much better for the telephone service of this country to be in the hands of a board of experts than to hand it over to a Government Department. . . . Business men would like to see an independent authority formed, somewhat on the lines of the Port of London Authority, or in any case formed of business men and of experts, with sufficient Government representation. Such men would be alive to the needs of the business community and accessible to representations from them, and would bring the telephone service of this country up to the requirements of the nation.—The Times (London), December 1, 1913.