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section heading icon     telephone

This page considers telecommunications for perspectives on the 'internet revolution'.

It covers -

This site features a more detailed profile on the history and shape of Australian and New Zealand telecommunications history. 

section marker     introduction

Development of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell and others a few decades after the telegraph sparked speculative binges and corporate restructuring similar to that found in the 1990s. By 1892 there were around 240,000 telephones in use in the US, rising to around 3.13 million Bell system telephones and 2.98 independent telephones in 1907. Nationalisation of the UK system in the latter decade involved 9,000 employees, 1.5 million miles of wire and 561,738 subscribers.

By the middle of last century the number of nodes on many networks had increased by over ten times (traffic volumes increased at a higher rate) and the wired population was normalising, ie moving towards the same demographics as those of the population at large rather than being restricted to economic, professional or other elites.

Moves to new technologies - notably mobile (aka cellular) phones, facsimile devices and digital transmission - were reflected in changing regulatory regimes, with for example break-up of 'Ma Bell' in the US, privatisation of British Telecom in the UK and the introduction of competition in the provision of fixed line and mobile services in Australia and New Zealand.

section marker     a geopolitics of telecommunications?

Historical perspectives are provided in Global Communications Since 1844: Geopolitics & Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1999) by Peter Hughill, The Carrier Wave: New Information Technology & the Geography of Innovation, 1846-2003 (London: Unwin Hyman 1988) by Peter Hall & Paschal Preston, Brian Winston's Media Technology & Society: A History from the Telegraph to the Internet (London: Routledge 1999) and The Struggle for Control of Global Communication: The Formative Century (Urbana: Uni of Illinois Press 2002) by Jill Hills. Works such as The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1977) by Alfred Chandler and JoAnne Yates' Control Through Communication: The Rise of System In American Management (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1993 are of particular value. 

Frances Cairncross' The Death of Distance (London: Orion 1997) and Ithiel de Sola Pool - in Technologies of Freedom (Cambridge: Belknap 1987) and Technologies Without Boundaries (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1990) - place the 'internet revolution' in context and tease out some implications. 

The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications & International Politics 1851-1945
(Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1991), noted on the preceding page of this profile, is a thought-provoking study by Daniel Headrick. It is complemented by Paul Starr's The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Mass Communications (New York: Basic 2004).

As a point of entry into the extensive literature on markets and regulation see Scott Wallsten's 2001 Ringing in the 20th Century: The Effects of State Monopolies, Private Ownership & Operating Licenses on Telecommunications in Europe, 1892-1914 (PDF), Gerald Brock's The Second Information Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 2003) and the 1998 An Overview of Telecommunications Market Evolution: Telegraphy & Telephony 1837-1934 (txt) by Gary Madden & Scott Savage.

There is a more pessimistic view in The Global Political Economy of Communication: Hegemony, Telecommunications & the Information Economy (New York: St Martins 1994), essays edited by Edward Comer. The authors argue that the web and satellite broadcasting are the latest iterations of traditional communication conflicts. 

Technology has promised the abolition of distance and the globalisation of everyday life. Twice before - in 1865 with the creation of the International Telegraph Union and in 1906 with the creation of the Radiotelegraphy Union - international agreement to encourage and then to regulate new international communication technologies have marked the beginning of generation-long conflicts over the boundaries of new, larger (but certainly less-than-global) economic orders.

Vicente Rafael's paper Generation Text: the Cell Phone & the Crowd in Recent Philippine History offers a view closer to home.

section marker     fathers and mothers

For a popular history see Peter Young's Person to Person: The International Impact of the Telephone (London: Granta 1991), complemented by Claude Fischer's America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1992), Ian Hutchby's Conversation & Technology: From the Telephone to the Internet (London: Polity 2001), James Katz' Connections: Social & Cultural Studies of the Telephone in American Life (New Brunswick: Transaction 2000) and William Dutton's Information & Communication Technologies: Visions & Realities (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1996).

Bell and Vail feature in HM Boettinger's The Telephone Book: Bell, Watson, Vail and American Life, 1876-1983 (New York: Stearn 1984), RV Bruce's Alexander Graham Bell & the Conquest of Solitude (Boston: Little Brown 1973) and Seth Shulman's The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret (New York: Norton 2007).

Michelle Martin's "Hello Central?" Gender, Technology, & Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems (Montreal: McGill-Queen's Uni Press 1991) should be read in conjunction with Lois Kathryn Herr's Women, Power, and AT&T: Winning Rights in the Workplace (Boston: Northeastern Uni Press 2003), Race on the Line: Gender, Labor and Technology in the Bell System, 1880-1980 (Durham: Duke Uni Press 2001) by Venus Green, G and Stephen Norwood's Labor's Flaming Youth: Telephone Operators & Worker Militancy, 1878-1923 (Urbana: Uni of Illinois Press 1990). Thomas Jepsen's My Sisters Telegraphic and Carolyn Marvin's When Old Technologies Were New (noted on the preceding page) are also of value.

section marker     teletext and Minitel

Ithiel de Sola Pool's Politics in Wired Nations (New Brunswick: Transaction 1998) is recommended for its provocative exploration of government attempts to regulate what occurs on the net and arrangements for standards that ensure the different networks and devices can continue to communicate with each other as one global network.

Pool's Forecasting the Telephone: A Retrospective Technology Assessment (Norwood: Ablex 1983) is a useful point of reference for assessing forecasts about e-commerce, WAP and other developments.

Leonard Graziplene's Teletext: Its Promise & Demise (Bethlehem: LeHigh Uni Press 2000) looks at a revolution that didn't arrive. For France's Minitel we recommend Jack Kessler's 1995 D-Lib paper and the 1998 OECD Information Economy Working Party's report (PDF) on France's Experience With The Minitel: Lessons For Electronic Commerce Over the Internet.

section marker     mobiles

Molbile phones (aka cell phones) are explored in more detail elsewhere on this site.

Points of entry to the literature include Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone (London: Icon 2003) by John Agar, Magic in the Air: Mobile Communication and the Transformation of Social Life (New Brunswick: Transaction 2006) by James Katz and Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile Phones for Society (New Brunswick: Transaction 2005) edited by Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi & Chris Locke.

section marker     national studies

For the US we recommend Pool's The Social Impact of the Telephone (Cambridge: MIT Press 1977) and the 1997 thesis by Robert Ward on The Chaos of Covergence: A Study of the Process of Decay, Change, and Transformation within the Telephone Policy Subsystem of the United States

Alan Stone's How America Got On-Line: Politics, Markets & the Revolution in Telecommunications (Armonk: Sharpe 1997), Electronic Media & Government: The Regulation of Wireless & Wired Mass Communication in the United States (White Plains: Longman 1995) by Leslie Smith & Milan Meeske, Breaking Up Bell: Essays on Industrial Organisation & Regulation (New York: North Holland 1983) edited by Donald Evans, Telecommunication Policy for the Information Age: From Monopoly to Competition (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1994) by Gerald Brock and The Fall of the Bell System (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1988) by Peter Temin offer insights into regulatory and market changes in the US. 

Neil Wasserman's From Invention to Innovation: Long-Distance Telephone Transmission at the Turn of the Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1985) is a cogent study of innovation and economics.

For Australia consult Ann Moyal's cogent Clear Across Australia: A History of Telecommunications (Melbourne: Nelson 1984) and Edgar Harcourt's less engaging Taming The Tyrant: The First 100 Years of Australia's International Telecommunications Service (Sydney: Allen & Unwin 1987). For New Zealand Alex Wilson's Wire & Wireless: A History of Telecommunications in New Zealand 1860-1987 (Palmerston: Dunmore Press 1994) is serviceable. A detailed profile on Australian and New Zealand telecommunications is here.

Robert Babe's Telecommunications in Canada: Technology, Industry & Government (Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press 1990) is an incisive analysis of past rhetoric - with public funding to match - about communications networks as the basis of national identity. It is updated by Telecom Nation - Telecommunications, Computers, and Governments in Canada (Toronto: McGill-Queens Uni Press 2001) by Laurence Mussio.

For telecommunications in nation building see The Invisible Empire: A History of the Telecommunications Industry in Canada, 1846-1956 (Toronto: McGill-Queens Uni Press 2001) by Jean-Guy Rens and Dwayne Winseck's paper A Social History of Canadian Telecommunications.

section marker    
wire fever and other discontents?

Anxieties about the telegraph as a cause of
neurasthenia, unhappy cows and impudent children or servants were highlighted on the preceding page of this profile. They have recurred in criticisms of landline and mobile phones, and wariness about the net.

Accounts of 'wire fever' are provided in Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (Lincoln: Uni of Nebraska Press 1991), Jeffrey Sconce's Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television (Durham: Duke Uni Press 2000) and John Durham Peters' Speaking Into the Air (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 2000).

More recent perspectives are provided in Patricia Wallace's The Psychology of the Internet (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1999), in Psychology & the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal & Transpersonal Implications (San Diego: Academic Press 1999) edited by Jayne Gackenbach and No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1986) by Joshua Meyrowitz.

section marker     US corporate histories

For the Bell family see works cited above and George David Smith's The Anatomy of a Business Strategy: Bell, Western Electric & the Origins of the American Telephone Industry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1985), Manufacturing the Future: A History of Western Electric (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1999) by Stephen Adams & Orville Butler, Sonny Kleinfeld's thin The Biggest Company on Earth: A profile of AT&T (New York: Holt Rinehart 1981) and Robert Garnet's The Telephone Enterprise: The Evolution of the Bell Systemís Horizontal Structure 1876-1909 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1985).

The major history of ITT remains Anthony Sampson's Sovereign State: The Secret History of ITT (London: Coronet 1974). MCI is profiled in Larry Kahaner's On the Line: The Men of MCI - Who Took on AT&T, Risked Everything, and Won! (New York: Warner 1986).

Studies of the vicissitudes of telecoms operators during the 1990s telco bubble are discussed here. They include Disconnected: Deceit & Betrayal at WorldCom (New York: Wiley 2003) by Lynne Jeter, The Great Telecoms Swindle: How the collapse of WorldCom Finally Exposed The Technology Myth (Oxford: Capstone 2003) by Keith Brody & Sancha Dunstan, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower (New York: Wiley 2008)
by Cynthia Cooper and Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron (New York: Doubleday 2003) by Sherron Watkins & Mimi Swartz.

section marker     other corporate histories

UK deregulation and privatisation is explored in John Harper's Monopoly & Competition in British Telecommunications (London: Pinter 1997) and Cento Veljanovski's Selling the State - Privatisation in Britain (London: Weidenfield & Nicolson 1988). Those works build on studies such as Douglas Pitt's The Telecommunications Function in the British Post Office - A Case Study of Bureaucratic Adaption (London: Saxon House 1980) and H Robinson's Britain's Post Office: A History of Development from the Beginnings to the Present Day (London: Oxford Uni Press 1953).

For Vodafone see Anytime, Anywhere: Entrepreneurship and the Creation of a Wireless World (New York: Cambridge Uni Press 2002) by Louis Galambos & Eric Abrahamson and Rollercoaster: The Turbulent Life & Times of Vodafone & Chris Gent (New York: Wiley 2003) by Trevor Merriden. W. J. Baker's A History of the Marconi Company (London: Routledge 1996) is of historical interest.

DoCoMo: Japan's Wireless Tsunami: How One Mobile Telecom Created a New Market and Became a Global Force (New York: Amacom 2002) is a triumphalist account by John Beck & Mitchell Wade.

section marker     telecommunications law

Introductions to contemporary telecommunications law include Telecommunications Law in Europe: Telecommunications Law in Europe (Haywards Heath: Tottel 2006) by Joachim Scherer, Telecommunications Law & Policy (Durham: Carolina Academic Press 2006) by Stuart Benjamin, Douglas Lichtman, Howard Shelanski & Philip Weiser, An Introduction to US Telecommunications Law (Norwood: Artech 2001) by Charles Kennedy, Telecommunications Law and Regulation (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2005) edited by Ian Walden & John Angel and Australian Telecommunications Regulation (Sydney: UNSW Press 2004) edited by Alasdair Grant






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version of December 2007
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