Belgium ends 19th-Century telegram service

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One hundred and seventy-one years after the first electrical message was transmitted down a line running alongside the railway between Brussels and Antwerp the final dispatch will be sent and received on 29 December.

The fact that this 19th-Century technology is still up and running in the age of Instagram and Snapchat may seem rather odd – especially when you consider that the UK, which invented the telegram in the 1830s, abandoned it as long ago as 1982.

The United States followed suit in 2006 and even India, which had been by far the world’s biggest market for the telegram, finally closed its system down in 2013.

Just 10 businesses and a handful of individual customers have kept the Belgian system going until now. It has been chiefly used by bailiffs, who had need of a system which provided legal guarantees of dispatch and receipt.

The buyer can call up a telephone operator to spell out their message, which is then sent by post.

But with a “flash” telegram costing €23.75 (£21) for a basic 20 words, plus €0.90 for delivery in and around Brussels, it is not difficult to see why the system is struggling to survive in the age of unlimited texting on cheap mobile phone tariffs.

By Kevin ConnollyBBC News, Brussels

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