Regulating the Global Information Society

By Christopher T. Marsden | Go to book overview

8

The rise and decline of the international telecommunications regime *

William J. Drake

International telecommunications is an issue-area in which multilateral cooperation is very deeply institutionalized. Long before governments recognized a need to establish international mechanisms to manage global problems like trade, human rights or the environment, they saw that nation-states could only benefit from the possibilities of international telecommunications if there were shared rules of the game governing how national networks would interconnect and messages would be passed from one to the next. In consequence, the international telecommunications regime is the oldest multilateral regime in the world, and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)-which has historically been the central forum for its negotiation-is the oldest intergovernmental organization in the world.

The telecommunications regime comprises the principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures that governments have agreed to govern the organization of international networks and services. 1 This chapter explores its historical development, transformation, and contemporary decay For 135 years, governments have cooperated in the ITU and its predecessor, the International Telegraph Union, to maintain a regime based on the overarching principles of national sovereignty, network interconnection and joint service provisioning. This framework allowed national carriers to slowly evolve a global network of national networks while protecting themselves from competitive market forces.

In the post-World War II era, the progressive internationalization of pressures unleashed by the United States' information control revolution fundamentally redefined the policy environment. In particular, new technological opportunities created by the merging of telecommunications, computing and microelectronics provided large corporations-especially users of systems and services-with new incentives to put pressure on governments for market liberalization at both the national and multilateral levels. In parallel, the slow but steady spread of new ideas about the role of telecommunications in an information-based economy and its optimal governance encouraged governments, first in the industrialized world and later in the developing world, to rethink the case for liberalization in a more accommodating light.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, the asymmetric international spread of these corporate pressures and new ideas generated substantial conflict between

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