The Making of Telecommunications Policy

The Making of Telecommunications Policy

The Making of Telecommunications Policy

The Making of Telecommunications Policy


This text examines the history, politics and impact of telecommunications policy. Beginning with a comparison of several alternative views of the future, it explains how government action makes the use of some technologies more likely than others.


It was spring 1993. An eleven-year-old boy, a bright boy, asked to use my telephone. I pointed him to the rotary telephone mounted on the wall. He picked up the receiver and looked at the rotary dialer for about ten seconds. Then he turned to me and said, “How do you work this thing?”

Telecommunications technologies are changing—so rapidly that an item like a rotary telephone can change from a common item in America's kitchens to a mysterious antique in ten short years.

Telecommunications—the transmission and reception of information over wires and through the electromagnetic spectrum—are important to us. Transmitters and receivers are found all around us and are part of everyday life for most citizens. the way most people work, play, consume, socialize, and learn about their world is organized around telecommunications. Drafts of this book took electronic form and traveled between authors, editors, and typesetters; without that transformation, production costs would have been far higher. Someone watches television in most households for, on average, more than a third of waking hours. the average person uses a telephone several times each day. It is a rare business that does not rely on dependable telecommunications that link them to customers and suppliers.

Governments in the United States have regulated telecommunications since the invention of the telephone in 1876. For a good portion of this period, government agencies were closely involved in telecommunications companies—deciding who could enter the business, what each company could and could not own, what services could and could not be offered, and what prices the companies could charge for those services. in the 1970s, national policymakers began to change the role of government in the regulation of telecommunications. Over the next two decades, they produced fundamental changes in policy, although telecommunications was, compared to other policy areas, slow to be added to the trend to deregulation.

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