As the above account reveals, the wires never really went away. The early radio and television networks were wired and the transoceanic telephone cables have kept pace with the development of the international telecommunications satellite system. Yet, more than that, cables have always been used for the distribution of radio and television signals to the home. Indeed, cable has been, from the outset, a viable alternative to free-air propagation. As Peter Eckersley, the engineer who had built the BBC’s SB wireless net, suggested to Reith, it was nothing less than a complete alternative to wireless transmission (Briggs 1961:358); but almost nowhere did this happen, nor has it developed in this way. Instead careful prevarication and delay has meant that, usually, cable has only been allowed to supplement the efforts of the broadcasters. It has taken decades to achieve even this limited function but it should be noted that at no time had this slow diffusion been occasioned by technological constraints. Cable has stood ready to supplant broadcasting from the very beginning of both radio and television; its failure so to is a further vivid example of the operation of the ‘law’ of the suppression of radical potential.
I have suggested that bandwidth limitations placed upon the telephone circuit were economic in origin and not primarily the result of technological constraints. Thus, higher fidelity wires for the re-transmission of radio signals were immediately developed in the 1920s and were in place almost as soon as radio was itself established. In the Netherlands, the need for signal enhancement and a taste for the importation of distant foreign stations provided the supervening necessities for radio cable systems. By 1939, 50 per cent of Dutch homes, and in some urban areas as many as 80 per cent, were wired. In Britain the ‘rediffusion’ of domestic radio services had begun in 1925 on the south coast where shipping signals caused enough interference to render domestic reception difficult. In the north-east too,