Evening Post TUESDAY, JULY 10, 1928. AN IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT
The conclusion of the conference which lias been sitting in London lo consider the subject of Kmpire communications by wireless and cable may safely be called an important landmark in the history of a great subjecl. Like the Imperial Conference, it has no executive power, but like that conference it comprised official delegates representing Great Britain, the self-governing Dominions, and India, and it was given a' still broader scope by the inclusion of representatives of the Crown Col-! onies and Protectorates. As with the resolutions of the Imperial Conference, il is for each of the Govern- | ments concerned to say whether or lo what extent the recommendations of the conference should be adopted, and the number of the resolutions iof the Imperial Conference itself, which, by reason of the inaction of •its constituent Governments, have remained a dead letter, may not at first sight appear to provide a very I hopeful precedent. But il is as a rule the reluctance of the Dominions Ito face the expenditure or other re- , pponsibility involved that has rendered so much of the work of the Im- , perial Conference abortive. Not only does there seem lo be no prospect 1 here of any such obstacles arising lo block the recommendations of the Empire Wireless and Cables Conference, but the success of the Imperial Conference in pioneering the Pacific cable is a precedent of happy augury which is exactly in point. Il is a scheme, not of nationalisation or "Imperialisation," but of co-ordination and control, lhal the Communications Conference has recommended. On one point, indeed, it may be said lo conform with ihe ideal of "less Government in business" instead of more. Though the full publication of the report is j withheld-until the Governments concerned have dealt with it, the Official Wireless and Press Association's reports are at one as to its-main fcaLures. According to the latter, which is the fuller of the two, it is authoritatively stated thai «il--1 though the conference recommends the operation of the cable and wireless proi perties of the .Eastern and Associated ! Companies, the Marconi and Associated 1 Company, ,tho Pacific Cable Board, the British Post Office beam stations, and the Atlantic cables by'a purely communications company, tho Government will not bo responsible directly or indirectly for the company or financially interested therein. All, the Government properties, except the beam stations, which will be leased for a period of years, will bo sold outright to the new. company, whose capital is in the neighbourhood of thirty millions. This £30,000,000 merger would obviously be equally convenient for the purposes of public ownership or public control, but it is guile definite that nothing more than control is at present in contemplation. There will be no public responsibility, direct or indirect, for the amalgamating company, nor will the public have any immediate financial interest therein. On the other hand, there will actually be, as we have said, less Government in the business than before, because, with the exception of the beam stations, all the Government properties will be sold to the new company. Indirectly, however, the public should derive an. immense benefit from the concern, without apparently any proportionate risk. It stands to gain a more efficient and cheaper service, and its interests will be protected by a consultative body, consisting of representatives of the various Goyernments, and empowered to control the rates and control the profits. < It is easy for the layman to see that the main idea of a scheme which aims "to ensure co-operation and co-ordination of the systems, which are really nol competitive but complementary," is excellent; and it is natural for him lo hope that recommendations, unanimously adopted by such a conference after consultation with the best expert talent of the Empire, will be found, to work. "Under a unified management," we are told, "economies should be secured that arc not obtainable under the present haphazard system." There are certain obvious economies which unification can always be relied upon to affect, but its influence upon competition, which is commonly regarded as the soul of business, is apt to be injurious in the exact proportion to the nearness of its approach to a monopoly. To what extent may the proposed unification be open to this objection? And does the,,conference cover the whole ground when it says that tlie cable and the wireless are "really not competitive but complementary"? These doubts are so obvious that they must have been fully weighed by the conference, and are not likely to have been dismissed without solid ground. There are paradoxes in this ■ field of competition which illustrate the peril of arguing about it from general principles. At the outset the institution and rapid advance of wireless telegraphy supplied an excellent example of the proverbial value of competition. Marconi, who first got a message across the Channel at Easter, 1899, and across the Atlantic just lief ore Christmas, 1901, was carrying messages both ways across the Atlantic before the end of 1907, and had launched a great scheme for an Imperial chain of wireless stations just
before the War. In those early days, wireless messages were, taken at Iwothirds of the cable rates, the transAtlantic charges being 9d and Is a word respectively. But at those rates the cable companies were losing so much business that in 1923 they reduced their charges to the wireless level, and recovered it. The Eastern telegraph cable group were, however, unable to treat their traffic with Australia, South Africa, and India in., a similar way, because, whatever their tariff, ihe Post Office reduced its charge to 4d a word lower on fully paid messages. In, an interesting article on the proposed .merger of the Eastern Telegraph Group and the Marconi Wireless Compauy, which is included in the present proposals, a correspondent explains in the "Times" of ?Lh May how this great scheme of amalgama-" tion was brought about by the strange policy of the Post Office:— Ono can hardly believe that the Post Office dcliboratcly set itself to crush a great Empire industry, and incidentally prejudice its own cable system, at the cost of the taxpayer, in order to bolster up wireless communication. Their object was, apparently, to reduce rates generally, but the effect of their rigid policy lias not been to create that healthy competition between cables and wireless which everyone desired, but to drive tho cable and wireless companies into combination. Government interference in ' industry has had strange results, but it is doubtful if the history of such interference can provide a more instructive example of unexpected developments . than those which have arisen in connection withj wireless telegraphy. It is but poetical justice that, in so far as the British Post Office may be said lo be putting the Euston and Associated Telegraph Companies out of business, it is doing just the same for itself. ,
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