Re: Why is speed important for transferring backup tapes?
It wasn't purely backups, otherwise they could've just driven them far enough out of London/NY to be safe from <whatever> event. So avoiding places like Troy or Trenton. The company was a rather large, well known and well connected Anglo-American giant, so needed to have sales/finance/production data shared across the pond.
And like others have pointed out, the challenges (and costs) of synchronising large databases, or doing synchronous replication over long distances are still often misunderstood.