views updated May 18 2018


At one time, the term telecommunications denoted the long-distance connection that linked television networks to their affiliates and the long-distance connections that linked telephone networks to local switching centers. Telecommunications applied both to AT&T's long-distance telephone network and to the television industry's worldwide networksbut each used very different technologies to transmit voice or video. Now with the rapid growth of the Internet, telecommunications has expanded to include data networks. The newest technologies in telecommunications are wireless devices and handhelds and wireless data plans.

Telecommunications and information-related industries continue to enjoy a rapid growth in the Internet and the wireless device and network sectors. Table 1 provides a summary of the major classes of telecommunications services and how they function.


The concept of universal service has traditionally referred to the goal that all Americans should have access to affordable communications services. As of February 17, 2009, television access will require a digital tuner, and there is increasing pressure for universal Internet access. Universal telephone access has been met by means of policies established by government regulatory bodies. Telephone or Internet services in densely populated areas promise good revenue and profits because the cost of wiring businesses and residences is lessened by the short distances. Regulations are needed to ensure that people in remote areas have access; when people move farther and farther away from population centers, the cost of bringing telecommunication services becomes increasingly expensive, but no less necessary. The trade off for making the sizable investment to equip homes and businesses for telecommunications was protection from competitors. This protection is usually provided by state public utility commissions or municipal government policies. Limiting competition and the number of wires strung along highways and into homes makes good sense, especially from an aesthetic perspective.

In 1996 the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) issued an extensive new set of regulations to increase competition in the industry. Local phone companies objected to competitors coming into their territories, especially densely populated urban and suburban locations with large client bases. But the trend has already been set by cable-TV companies partnering with long-distance companies and using their cables to offer phone, TV, premium TV, digital music, Internet access, and e-mail bundles. The Regional Bell Operating Companies have also engaged in a variety of mergers. The FCC appears to be ready to approve mergers that open up competition in local phone and cable-TV markets (e.g., AT&T was allowed to acquire TCI and other cable services), but not always the mergers between local phone companies.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, is the executive branch's principal voice on domestic and international telecommunications and information technology issues. NTIA works to spur innovation, encourage competition, help create jobs, and provide consumers with more choices and better quality telecommunications products and services at lower prices. Now that a considerable portion of today's business, communication, and research takes place on the Internet, access to computers, handheld devices and networks may be as or more important as access to traditional telephone services. The NTIA is preparing policy to ensure access to Internet service.


The term telecommunications primarily applies to the long-distance carriers, such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, which carry transmissions and route calls between switching centers. The local telephone markets are dominated by the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), such as Verizon, BellSouth, and SBC Communications. The RBOCs bear the responsibility for universal access, for ensuring that every residenceno matter how remotehas affordable phone service. Often these rural and remote sites pay the minimum amount, approximately $15 per month, for the minimal service. The RBOCs claim that their costs for customers exceed $15 per month; the public utility commissions at the state level help the RBOCs subsidize those customers with revenue from urban and suburban customers, as well as access fees paid by long-distance carriers. The RBOCs are guaranteed a profit by the public utility commissions, but the rates have been virtually constant with little growth in the number of phones added. Cable-TV companies are expected to further drive down long-distance prices with package plan offerings; this will undoubtedly change things for the long-distance carrier industry, perhaps pushing them into other markets or telecommunication industries.

Each local telephone center is a hub from which copper wires extend to homes and businesses. This last mile of wiring is the window or portal into millions of homes and businesses, controllingin some waysthe services provided and the revenues generated from homes and businesses. The last mile of wiring is also the major bottleneck to providing better and faster services to those millions of sites. The twisted pair wires in virtually every home are the major problem with boosting the speed of Internet access over those lines. But those millions of miles of wires are extremely expensive to replace. In order for the regional phone companies to effectively compete against the cable-TV companies, they will have to rewire, thereby opening up the possibility of providing the full bundle of services to the home owners.

In every major city across the world, wireless phones are everywhere. The trend continues to grow exponentially as more and more workers transact business away from their desks, and as less and less time is spent at home. Wireless calls exceeded calls from hard lines for the first time in 2003 in the United States and again in Europe in 2008.

John Malone, a cable industry executive, brought the term convergence to telecommunications to describe bundling multiple services, such as cable-TV, premium movie channels, Internet services, digital music channels, and phone service. Convergence is made possible by advances in transmission technology; all of those services can be provided over a single cable. And that means that cable-TV companies could move into the phone business, and phone companies could move into the TV business. As convergence became a reality, competition in the telecommunications industry moved to a new level.


Almost all the major cable-TV companies provide high-speed Internet services alongside the regular TV and pay-per-view channels. All these services are offered over one coaxial cable. Cable companies employ a transmission approach called broadband. Coaxial cable can carry high-speed data and/or multiple channels of video over an insulated central copper wire wrapped in another cylindrical conducting wire, which is then shielded and wrapped in a protective cover. This wire is split into many channels by breaking out the wiring spectrum into multiple frequencies and transmitting each channel on a separate frequency. Broadband delivers large amounts of content by way of frequency division multiplexing. Part of the available frequency spectrum is dedicated to data for Internet access and another to voice for telephony.

As great as broadband sounds, it has the inherent drawback of being an analog approach for sending digital TV signals, digital sound, and for sending and receiving digital data; at both ends of the cable, a digital-to-analog or analog-to-digital conversion is required. Another potential problem is that the data channel might become overloaded as more and more customers begin to interact with Internet services; broadband was designed as a transmission approach to send multiple channels of video one way only, while e-mail service is two way.

The unshielded, twisted pair of wires in virtually every home are the major impediment to boosting the speed of Internet access over phone lines. Speed for sending and receiving data is expressed in terms of how many bits (ones or zeros) per second can be moved. The maximum speed for a telephone modem is 56,000 bits per second, which by comparison to newer technologies is quite slow. Phone companies implemented digital subscriber line (DSL), which uses four wires to carry both voice and data simultaneously in both directions. Data can be received or downloaded from the Internet at speeds up to 1.5 million bits per second, but data sent from homes moves at a much slower rate. DSL technology, however, is proving difficult and expensive to implement, especially at distances greater than two miles from the switching centers. The requisite DSL modems are also more expensive and difficult for users to install. DSL gives phone companies voice and high-speed data services, but it does not open up the lucrative premium TV market. Rewiring with coaxial or fiberoptic cables can make

regional phone companies competitive with cable-TV companies and open up the possibility of providing the full bundle of services to home owners.

Fiber-optic wiring is the preferred choice of the long distance companies and often the preferred choice of regional telephone companies as they upgrade in urban and suburban areas where demand for capacity is a concern. Fiber-optic media is much faster than electric, is unaffected by electro-magnetic interference, and is much more secure. It is also much more expensive to install because the tiny glass filaments are very difficult to align and join together. Lasers transmit pulses of light, rather than electrical signals, to send data and photo-decoders to receive the data; hence the speed of the lasers is dependent on these devices. The hair-thin strands of fiber are made of very pure flexible glass or plastic filaments, along which photons, the fundamental unit of light, move in waves or streams.


There continues to be rapid growth in the wireless device business. Prices continue to decline for phones and other handheld devices and the monthly service charges. Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon are advertising hundreds of minutes of calls anytime and to anywhere in the United States for low monthly fees, price incentives made possible due to the size and presence of national networks.

Wireless devices and data services send and receive voice and data from their antennae to local towers which are linked to adjacent towers and long-distance lines. The area within range of any tower is called a cell; most are adjacent to other cells, forming a honeycomb pattern. As wireless devices move from cell to cell, their calls are automatically switched from tower to tower.

The first cell phones were analog devices, with well-known security problems and often poor-quality reception. Cellular phones broadcast in the 800-900 MHz frequencies, which some scanners can hear. Newer digital and quad-band phones provide better security and better quality sound, but they operate at lower voltages, have shorter ranges, and require more towers. The PCS standard for digital phones has been widely accepted in the United States, but Europeans have adopted another digital standard, GSM, which made wireless communications during international travel difficult through the early 2000s before wireless devices had the capability to roam between systems.

Many varieties of handhelds now offer voice and data, including access to the Internet, e-mail, SMS and MMS messaging, and navigation systems. Some of the most popular options in handhelds are the RIM Black-Berry, the Palm Treo, and the Motorola Sidekick. Wireless companies usually offer comprehensive data and voice plans for these devices, making it affordable to use a bundle of communications and data options.


Many long-distance companies are implementing a data networking approach, now called an IP standard from the UNIX TCP/IP protocol suite. Data, voice, and video are being sent digitally as packets of data, rather than as parts of an analog frequency. The digital approach promises faster, cheaper, and better telecommunications services; it is especially well suited to fiber-optic wiring. The widespread popularity of digital devices suggests that digital data networks make the most sense. In long-distance and wireless activity the amount of data now exceeds the amount of voice transmission, moving both voice and data to IP networking.

Cable-TV transmissions employ frequency division multiplexing to continuously send many channels one-way to TV tuners. Data and voice transmissions are two-way, often short bursts from sender to receiver. This adds considerable complexity, as TCI and Time Warner discovered during the implementation of phone and Internet services over their coaxial cables.

Phone conversations are semi-permanent sessions between sender and receiver. The phone companies use circuit-switching technology to connect the two parties by establishing a circuit, or connection, for the duration of the call for the exclusive use of the two parties. But that is preceded by establishing the link or circuit through the local switching center, the long-distance carrier, and another switching center. Here again the wire capacity is broken up into circuits using frequency division multiplexing. The traditional T-1 line provides twenty-four separate telephone circuits over copper wire; each circuit is equivalent to 64,000 bits per second digital channel.

Data network standards were established as millions of local area networks were created in businesses all over the world. Data is sent and received in packets, called datagrams, defined by protocols, such as the dominant IP protocol. The packets have a to address, a from address, considerable digital data, and error-checking data; each packet also indicates that it is one of many in a group, to be assembled by the receiving computer. Data networks operate like the mail delivery system in that data is put into envelops. The to and from addresses contain both a single individual address as well as the area's zip code. Trucks (wires) take all the mail to central hubs, where it is again sorted and sent to the right zip code post office which delivers the envelop to the right home address. Data networks use packet switching devices, typically routers, to truck the packets from router to router along the path.

Packet switching is much more efficient for little e-mail messages or slow phone conversations. With packet switching, an exclusive circuit is not necessary as the entire bandwidth is always open to accept packets. The standard for fiber optic transmission is 2.5 Gbps (2.5 billion bits per second), so very large amounts of information can be moved in the blink of an eye. Compressed video and compressed music take up lots of bandwidth; a CD holds 600 million bytes (4.8 billion bits), but data can be compressed by half into roughly 2.5 billion bits, and sent and received in a second.


Access to the Internet is now largely wireless and fiber-optic. Cable-TV companies provide Internet access via cable modems to almost anywhere. The Internet and e-mail are now accessible from handheld devices. Prices for voice and data transmission are dropping consistently, making telecommunication something for everyone, not just a wealthy few. Long distance is built in to most wireless service plans and is a fraction of the cost it once was on hard lines. Companies who wish to maintain a competitive edge in telecommunications must stay ahead of the technological trends as they rapidly evolve with the changing needs of today's consumers.

The telecommunications industry is experiencing a whirlwind of activity. Rapid growth is occurring in every sector of the industry, and data networks to accommodate Internet traffic are growing as fast as companies can implement them. The industry competes globally, and having global reach appears to be a competitive edge. Bigger is better if the goal is to connect international businesses to their subsidiaries in other regions of the world. At the same time, the ability to deploy technology that is smaller, faster, and cheaper gives advantage to smaller, more agile companies. Smaller is better if, and only if, government regulations permit smaller companies to take chunks of the more lucrative business segments from the established companies.

In the short term, the best telecommunications segment is the cable-TV business. Protected by municipal regulations, cable companies have been able to raise prices for traditional packages. Broadband cable technology is the best way to provide a wide variety of services into millions of homes: TV, On Demand programming, Internet access, e-mail, telephone, and digital music. Major cable companies are billing millions of customers more than $100 per month for these kinds of bundles.

In the short term, the regional phone companies are in the worst strategic position. Competing against cable companies means rewiring millions of homes and businesses and replacing their circuit switching systemsa very costly undertaking. The traditional technology is obsolete and neither ISDN nor DSL can make telephone companies competitive against cable companies.

In the short term the wireless device and carrier business will continue to grow and prosper. The speculation that virtually every adult and adolescent in the United States will own a wireless device surprises very few peoplevirtually everyone in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan already does. Here again, having a global or national network is a powerful competitive advantage to a wireless company; offering low monthly charges for extensive data and voice plans will put any provider ahead of the pack. When calls and data can be handled by one carrier from end to end, the result is less complex, inexpensive, and better service. The handheld devices of today are generally able to transmit data and calls to and from anywhere in the world and offer a host of telecommunication options. These options paired with low cost and super-high speed will be the ultimate combination in this industry moving forward.

SEE ALSO Computer Networks; Technology Management; Technology Transfer


Douskalis, Bill. IP Telephony: The Integration of Robust VoIP Services. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall PTR, 2000.

Freeman, Roger L. Fundamentals of Telecommunications. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Harwit, Eric. China's Telecommunications Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Saxtoft, Christian. Convergence: User Expectations, Communications Enablers and Business Opportunities (Telecoms Explained). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

Schoning, Heinrich. Business Management of Telecommunications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2005.


views updated May 29 2018


The transmission of words, sounds, images, or data in the form of electronic or electromagnetic signals or impulses.

From the introduction of the telegraph in the United States in the 1840s to the present-day internet computer network, telecommunication has been a central part of American culture and society. What would we do without telephone, radio, broadcast television, cable television, satellite television, fax machines, cellular telephones, and computer networks? They have become integral parts of our everyday lives. And as telecommunication technology advanced, the more complicated the telecommunications industry became. As a result, federal and state governments attempted to regulate the pricing of telecommunication systems and the content of transmitted material. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Pub. L. No. 104-104), however, deregulated much of the telecommunication industry, allowing competition in markets previously reserved for government-regulated monopolies.


The first telegraph system in the United States was completed in 1844. Originally used as a way of managing railroad traffic, the telegraph soon became an essential means of transmitting news around the United States. The Associated Press was formed, in 1848, to pool telegraph expenses; other "wire services" soon followed.

Many telegraph companies were formed in the early years of the business, but by 1856 Western Union Telegraph Company had become the first dominant national telegraph system. In 1861, it completed the first transcontinental line, connecting San Francisco first to the Midwest and then on to the East Coast. As worldwide interest increased in applications of the telegraph, the International Telegraph Union was formed, in 1865, to establish standards for use in international communication. In 1866, the first transatlantic cables were completed.

The telegraph era came to an end after world war ii, with the advent of high-speed transmission technologies that did not use telegraph and telephone wires. By 1988, Western Union was reorganized to handle money transfers and related services.

Telephone Systems

The invention of the telephone in the late nineteenth century led to the creation of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). The company owned virtually all telephones, equipment, and long-distance and local wires for personal and business service in the national telephone system. Smaller companies seeking a part of the long-distance telephone market challenged AT&T's monopoly in the 1970s.

In 1982, the u.s. justice department allowed AT&T to settle a lawsuit alleging antitrust violations because of its monopolistic holdings. AT&T agreed to divest itself of its local operating companies by January 1, 1984, while retaining control of its long-distance, research, and manufacturing activities. Seven regional telephone companies (known as the Baby Bells) were given responsibility for local telephone service. Other companies now compete with AT&T to provide long-distance service to telephone customers.

In an effort to spur competition, however, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed the seven regional phone companies to compete in the long-distance telephone market. The act also permitted AT&T and other long-distance carriers, as well as cable companies, to sell local telephone service.

Local telephone rates are regulated by state commissions, which also work to see that the regional telephone companies provide good maintenance and services. In addition, the use of a telephone for an unlawful purpose is a crime under state and federal laws, as is the wiretapping of telephone conversations.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings that had a significant impact on large regional telephone companies. The first was Verizon Communications v. FCC 535 U.S. 467, 122 S.Ct. 1646, 152 L. Ed. 2d 701, which had beginnings in the 1990s. Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, multiple local exchange carriers (LECs) are allowed to compete in the same market. Incumbent LECs, or ILECs, are those that already have a presence in a market. Competing LECs (CLECs) are providers that want to enter an ILEC's market. The ILECs are required to share their telecommunications network with the CLECs for a good faith negotiated price (47 U.S.C.A. Secs. 251–52). They must form a written agreement; if there are points of contention in the agreement, they must be submitted for binding arbitration to the state utility commission. That decision may be appealed to a federal district court if either side believes that it constitutes a violation of the act.

Several LECs and state utility commissions challenged the federal communications commission (FCC), the federal agency charged with regulating communications, over the way it mandated pricing formulas. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs in Iowa Utilities Board v. FCC, 120 F.3d 753 (8th Cir. 1997). The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit's decision, concluding that the FCC was within its rights to establish a pricing methodology, and ordered the appellate court to determine whether that methodology met the requirements of the 1996 act (AT&T Corp. v. Iowa Utilities Board, 525 U.S. 366, 119 S. Ct. 721, 142 L. Ed. 2d 835 (1999). In Iowa Utilities Board v. FCC, 219 F.3d 744 (8th Cir. 2000), the appellate court ruled that the FCC pricing rules were invalid.

On appeal, the Supreme Court again reversed the Eighth Circuit, observing that the FCC's methodology had been designed so that smaller companies could enter and compete more easily in local phone markets. The ILECs preferred a methodology that would have increased the amount they were allowed to charge the CLECs. The increase would have amounted to billions of dollars in charges. Moreover, the Court held that the FCC also has the authority to force ILECs to combine leased elements upon request by a CLEC. These include local, long-distance, Internet, and pay-per-call information and entertainment services.

In a decision that involved two cases, the Supreme Court ruled that state utility commissions and individual commissioners may be sued in federal court by long-distance phone companies that disagree with the way they are enforcing federal laws (Verizon Maryland v. Public Service Commission of Maryland, 535 U.S. 635, 122 S. Ct. 1753, 152 L.Ed. 2d 871 (2002), Mathias v. Worldcom Technologies, Inc., 535 U.S. 682, 122 S. Ct. 1780 (Mem), 152 L.Ed. 2d 911 (2002).

In the first of these cases, Bell Atlantic Maryland, the region's ILEC, had refused to pay reciprocal compensation to Worldcom, a CLEC. The second case involved the same issue, except that the ILEC in question was Ameritech Illinois. Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, local calls trigger the ILEC's obligation to offer reciprocal compensation, while long-distance calls do not. The Maryland and Illinois ILECs refused to offer reciprocal compensation when their customers made phone calls to Internet service providers that were customers of the CLECs, arguing that a call to an Internet service provider is a long-distance call even though the number may be local. They reasoned that a phone call to another person connects the caller to that person, but a connection to the Internet gives the caller access to websites and information around the world—hence, a long-distance call.

The Maryland Public Service Commission and the Illinois Commerce Commission, respectively, rejected this argument, and the ILECs sued them in federal court, along with individual commissioners and the CLECs in question. The federal courts upheld the utility commission's decisions; the Forth and Seventh Circuit Courts did so, as well, on appeal (Bell Atlantic Maryland, Inc, v. MCI WorldCom, Inc., 240 F.3d 279 [4th Cir. 2001]; Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Worldcom Technologies, Inc., 179 F.3d 566 7th Cir. [1999]). One of the arguments made by the ILECs was that federal courts had no jurisdiction over these cases under the Telecommunications Act.

The Supreme Court held that the 1996 Telecommunications Act is a federal law, and as such, federal courts should be able to enforce the law by hearing cases brought against state regulators. As for whether individual commissioners could be sued, the Court cited Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed 714 (1908), and said that state officials can be sued in their official capacity as long as the suit alleges an ongoing violation of federal law, and as long as the relief sought can be characterized as prospective (looking toward the future).


In the early twentieth century, radio was regarded primarily as a device to make maritime operations safer and a potential advancement of military technology. During world war i, however, entrepreneurs began to recognize the commercial possibilities of radio. By the mid-1920s, commercial radio stations were operating in many parts of the United States, and owners began selling air time for advertisements. The Federal Radio Commission was created, in 1927, to assign applicants designated frequencies under specific engineering rules and to create and enforce standards for the broadcasters' privilege of using the public's airwaves.

The commission later became the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was established by the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.). The FCC issues licenses to radio and television stations, which permit the stations to use specific frequencies to transmit programming. Licenses are issued only on a showing that public convenience, interest, and necessity will be served and that an applicant satisfies certain requirements, such as citizenship, good character, financial capability, and technical expertise.

Before 1996, the FCC restricted persons or entities from acquiring excessive power through ownership of a number of radio and television facilities. The rule was based on the assumption that if one person or company owned most or all of the media outlets in an area, the diversity of information and programming on these stations would be restricted.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 eliminated the limit on the number of radio stations that one entity may own nationally. The FCC was also directed to reduce the restrictions on locally owned radio stations. Congress determined that less regulation was in the public interest.

In addition, the FCC seeks to prohibit the broadcast of obscene and indecent material. The Supreme Court has upheld regulations banning obscene material, because obscenity is not protected by the first amendment. It also permits the FCC to prohibit material that is "patently offensive," and either "sexual" or "excretory," from being broadcast during times when children are presumed to be in the audience (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726, 98 S. Ct. 3026, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1073 [1978]).


The commercial exploitation of television did not begin in the United States until the late 1940s. The FCC followed its example from radio and established licensing procedures for stations seeking permission to transmit television signals. It became the oversight body for the U.S. television industry.

The FCC has applied to television a prohibition similar to that imposed on radio against the broadcast of obscene and indecent material. For purposes of parental control, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated the establishment of an advisory committee to rate video programming that contains indecent material. The act also stated that, by 1998, new television sets had to be equipped with a so-called V-chip to allow parents to block programs with a predesignated rating for sex and violence.

Cable television became a viable commercial form of telecommunication in the 1980s. Both the FCC and local governments had an interest in regulating cable systems, with municipalities awarding a cable system franchise to one vendor. Cable operators negotiated system requirements and pricing with local governments, but federal law imposed some restrictions on rates to consumers. Concerns about rate regulation led Congress to enact the Cable Television consumer protection and Competition Act of 1992 (Pub. L. No. 102-385). The act gave the FCC greater control of the cable television industry and set rate structures to control the price of cable subscriptions. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, however, reversed the 1992 act by ending all rate regulation. The act also allowed the seven regional telephone companies to compete in the cable television market to end the monopoly that cable systems had enjoyed under the previous regulatory scheme.

For customers who cannot obtain cable television programming, the transmission of television signals by satellite has been a practical solution. Since their introduction in the 1990s, direct broadcast satellite systems have competed with cable television systems, offering high-quality video and audio signals, and access to a wide range of programming.

Transmission of Digital Data

In the 1980s and 1990s, the use of digital data transmission revolutionized the communication of words, images, and sounds. Computer-driven means of telecommunication have made possible electronic mail (e-mail), the sharing of computer files, and, most importantly, the Internet.

The Internet is a network of computers linking the United States with the rest of the world. Originally developed as a way for U.S. research scientists to communicate with each other, by the mid-1990s the Internet had become a popular form of telecommunication for personal computer users. Written text represents a significant portion of the Internet's content, in the form of both E-mail and articles posted to electronic discussion forums. In the mid-1990s, the appearance of the World Wide Web made the Internet even more popular. The Web is a multimedia interface that allows for the transmission of what are known as Web pages, which resemble pages in a magazine. In addition to combining text and pictures or graphics, the multimedia interface makes it possible to add audio and video components. Together these various elements have made the Internet a medium for communication and for the retrieval of information on virtually any topic.

The federal government has attempted to regulate this form of telecommunication. Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) (18 U.S.C.A. § 2701 et seq. [1994]), also known as the Wiretap Act, which made it illegal to read private E-mail. The ECPA extended to electronic mail most of the protection already granted to conventional mail. This protection, however, has not been extended to all E-mail that is transmitted in the workplace.

A controversial issue in the workplace is whether an employer should be able to monitor the E-mail messages of its employees. An employer has a strong legal and financial motive to prohibit unauthorized and inappropriate use of its E-mail system. Under the Wiretap Act, a company is not restricted in its ability to review messages stored on its internal E-mail system. In addition, interception of electronic communications is permitted when it is done in the ordinary course of business or to protect the employer's rights or property. This exception would apply when, for example, an employer has reasons to suspect that an employee is using the E-mail system to disclose information to a competitor or to send harassing messages to a coworker. Finally, the prohibitions of the Wiretap Act do not apply if the employee whose messages are monitored has explicitly or implicitly consented to such monitoring.

Congress sought to curb the transmission of indecent content on the Internet and other computer network telecommunications systems by enacting the Communications Decency Act (CDA) (47 U.S.C.A. § 223(a)-(h)), as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The CDA made it a federal crime to use telecommunications to transmit "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene or indecent, knowing that the recipient of the communication is under 18 years of age, regardless of whether the maker of such communication placed the call or initiated the communication." It includes penalties for violations of up to five years imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000.

In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 117 S. Ct. 2329, 138 L. Ed. 2d 874 (1997), the Supreme Court struck down the "indecent" provision as a violation of the First Amendment right of free speech.

Standards in Telecommunication

Certain telecommunication methods have become standards in the telecommunication industry because devices with different standards cannot communicate with each other. Standards are developed either through the widespread use of a particular method or by a standard-setting organization. The International Telecommunication Union, a united nations agency which sits in Geneva, Switzerland, and one of its operational bodies, the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee, play a key role in standardizing telecommunication methods. For example, the committee's standards for the fax machine that were adopted in the 1980s facilitated the dramatic increase in use of this form of telecommunication.

further readings

Benjamin, Stuart Minor, Douglas Gary Lichtman, and Howard A. Shelanski. 2001. Telecommunications Law and Policy. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.

Black, Sharon K. 2002. Telecommunications Law in the Internet Age. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.


Broadcasting; Electronic Surveillance; Employment Law; Entertainment Law; Fairness Doctrine; Privacy; Pornography.


views updated May 18 2018


TELECOMMUNICATIONS. The history of telecommunications is a story of networks. Alexander Graham Bell on his honeymoon wrote of a "grand system" that would provide "direct communication between any two places in [a] city" and, by connecting cities, provide a true network throughout the country and eventually the world (Winston, Media Technology, p. 244). From the telegraph to the telephone to e-mail, electronic communication has extended farther and reached more people with increasing speed. The advent of the Internet in combination with a satellite system that covers the entire surface of the earth has brought us closer to the "global village" envisioned by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s.

The variety of media included under the umbrella of "telecommunications" has expanded since the early twentieth century. The term was adopted in 1932 by the Convention Internationale des Telecommunications held in Madrid (OED). At this point, the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio were the only widely used telecommunications media. The United States, the point of origin for only one of these three (Bell's telephone), soon came to dominate the telecommunications industries. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was created in 1919, three years before Britain's British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). By 1950, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) provided the best telephone service in the world. American television led the way after World War II (1939–1945). Then, in the early 1980s, a new device was introduced: the personal computer. Although not intended as a tool for telecommunications, the personal computer became in the 1990s the most powerful means of two-way individual electronic communication, thanks to a network that goes far beyond any "grand system" dreamed of by Bell. The network we now call the Internet gives a person with a computer and an Internet connection the ability to send not only words, but graphs, charts, audio signals, and pictures, both still and moving, throughout the world.

Most telecommunications networks were created for specific purposes by groups with vested interests. The telegraph network was created to make scheduling trains possible. Telephones were first primarily for business use. The grandfather of the Internet, ARPANET, was commissioned by the Department of Defense in 1969 to develop a military communication network that could withstand a nuclear attack.

In general, the U.S. Congress has chosen to allow these networks to remain under private control with a modicum of regulation, in contrast to governments in Europe and Britain, which have turned these networks into public utilities. In the case of the Internet, we see the control moving from the military to the private sector, and Congress grappling with how to regulate "objectionable" communications such as pornography.

The Telegraph

The first practical means of electronic communication was the telegraph. The science on which it is based was over a century old when the sudden development of the railway system in the 1830s, first in England, then in America, made it necessary to communicate the movement of trains rapidly. The interconnection of the various technologies, one breeding the need for another, is well illustrated.

But while the telegraph was developed with this one purpose in mind, the potential uses of the new device were soon recognized, and information other than that dealing with train schedules began to flow across the wires. In 1844, the Democratic National Convention's nominee for vice president declined via telegraph, though the Convention, not trusting the new device, had to send a group from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., for face-to-face confirmation. Here we see an early example of the evolution of trust in these new networks.

While battles were waged over ownership, the technology continued to expand its influence as the stock market and the newspaper business, both in need of rapid transmission of information, began using the everexpanding network. As with later technologies, there was debate in Congress over governmental control. Congress' decision was to let the private sector compete to exploit this new technology. That competition ended with the adoption of one specific "code," and Samuel Morse emerged as the Bill Gates of the telegraph.

The Telephone and the Fax

Telegraphy required training in Morse code on the part of both sender and receiver, so this form of telecommunication remained primarily a means of communication for business and for urgent personal messages sent from a public place to another public place. Bell's telephone, invented in 1876, brought telecommunication into the home, although the telephone remained primarily a business tool until after World War II, when telephones become common in American homes.

AT&T, formed in 1885, held a virtual monopoly on U.S. telephonic communication until 1982. The Justice Department forced the separation of Western Union from the company in 1913. At this point an AT&T vice president, Nathan Kingsbury, wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, which came to be called the "Kingsbury Commitment." It formed the basis of AT&T's dominance of telephone service until 1982, when the Justice Department insisted that AT&T be severed into seven "Baby Bells" who each provided local service to a region.

The control that AT&T maintained probably contributed to the quality of phone service in the United States, but it also squelched some developments. For example, until 1968, only equipment leased from AT&T could be hooked to their network. Thus the facsimile machine (the fax), originally developed in the nineteenth century as an extension of telegraphy, did not come into use until after the 1968 FCC order forcing Bell to allow users to hook non-Bell equipment to the AT&T network. Factors other than technology often determine the evolution of telecommunications.

Radio and Television

Radio and television are quite different from the telegraph and telephone: they communicate in one direction and "broadcast" to many listeners simultaneously. The Italian Guglielmo Marconi, working in England in 1896, patented his wireless system and transmitted signals across the Atlantic in 1901. By 1919 RCA was formed, and in 1926, it created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The radio was a common household appliance by the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fireside chats in 1933, and its effect on the public was demonstrated inadvertently by Orson Welles in his radio drama based on H. G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds. Many people accepted the fictional tale of an invasion from Mars as fact and panicked.

In 1939, NBC began broadcasting television signals, but television broadcasting was halted until after World War II ended in 1945. Both radio and television altered many aspects of American society: home life, advertising, politics, leisure time, and sports. Debates raged over television's impact on society. Television was celebrated as an educational panacea and condemned as a sad replacement for human interaction.

The Internet

Like the Interstate Highway System, which carries a different kind of traffic, the Internet began as a Cold War postapocalypse military project in 1969. ARPANET was created to develop a means of effective communication in the case of a nuclear war. The Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), created in 1957 in response to the launch of Sputnik, advanced the case that such a network was necessary, illustrating again that necessity (or at least perceived necessity) is the mother of invention. Paul Baran, a RAND researcher studying military communications for the Air Force, wrote in 1964, "Is it time now to start thinking about a new and possibly non-existent public utility, a common user digital data communication plant designed specifically for the transmission of digital data among a large set of subscribers?"

As the ARPANET expanded, users developed software for sending electronic mail, soon dubbed e-mail, then just plain email. By 1973, about three-fourths of the traffic on this network connecting many research universities consisted of email. The network expanded to include other universities and then other local area networks (LANs). Once these local area networks became connected to one another, this new form of communication spread rapidly. In 1982, a protocol was developed that would allow all the smaller networks to link together using the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP). Once these were adopted on various smaller "internets," which connected various LANs, "the Internet" came into being. Just as railroad companies had to adopt a common gauge of track to make it possible to run a train across the country, so the various networks had to adopt a common protocol so that messages could travel throughout the network. Once this happened, the Internet expanded even more rapidly. This electronic network, often dubbed "the information superhighway," continued to expand, and in the early 1990s, a new interface was developed that allowed even unsophisticated users of personal computers to "surf the Internet": the World Wide Web. With this more friendly access tool came the commercialization of this new medium.

The Access Issue

Access has been a key issue throughout the history of telecommunications. The term "universal service," coined in 1907 by Bell Chief Executive Officer Theodore Vail, came to mean, by mid-century, providing all Americans affordable access to the telephone network. There were still rural areas without electrical and telephone service in the mid-twentieth century (the two networks often sharing the same poles for stringing wires overhead), but by the end of the century, about 94 percent of all homes had phones (notable exceptions being homes in poverty zones such as tribal lands and inner-city neighborhoods). In the final decade of the twentieth century, cell phones became widely available, though they were not adopted as quickly in the United States as elsewhere. This new and alternative network for telephonic communication makes possible wireless access from remote sites, so that villages in central Africa, for example, can have telephone access to the world via satellite systems. In the United States, subscribers to cell phone services increased from about 5,000 in 1990 to over 100,000 in 2000, while average monthly bills were cut in half.

Despite the fact that access to the Internet expanded much faster than did access to earlier networks, there was heated political debate about the "digital divide" separating those who have such access from the have-nots. This points to the importance of this new form of telecommunication, which combines personal communication technology with information access. Thus, federal programs in the 1990s promoted Internet access to public schools and libraries. While 65 percent of public high schools had Internet access in 1995, the figure reached 100 percent by 2000. Once connected to this vast network, the computer becomes not only an educational tool but also a means of communication that can change the world. In 1989 news from Tiananmen Square protesters came out of China via email.

The Merging of the Media

By the mid-1990s, the impact of the Internet, the new digital technologies, the satellite systems, and fiber-optic cables was felt throughout the world of telecommunications. Radio stations began "web casting," sending their signals out over the Internet so listeners around the world could tune in. By the turn of the twenty-first century, not only pictures but also entire movies could be downloaded from the Internet. As use of computers increased, the digital format became increasingly important, and by the end of the century digital television was a reality, though not widely in use. A variety of mergers by telecommunications companies increased the need for government oversight. Congress grappled with regulation of this ever-expanding field that knows no borders or nationality. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 extended the quest for "universal service" to "advanced telecommunications services," but other attempts to regulate content on the Internet tended to be rejected by the courts as unconstitutional.

Effect of Medium on the Message

If television produced a generation that was more comfortable with the image than with the word, computers turned a later generation back to the word, and to new symbols as well. Marshal McLuhan in the 1960s said that "the medium is the message." The phenomenon of the medium affecting the communication process is well illustrated by the development of the "emoticon" in email chat room and instant messenger communications. Emoticons came about when email and Internet users discovered that the tone of their messages was often missed by receivers, who sometimes became offended when a joking tone was not inferred. Thus, the emoticon was proposed in 1979, first as a simple -) and then the more elaborate :-) to suggest tone, and soon this and other tone indicators came into widespread use.

Too often we limit ourselves to "just the facts" when considering technology, but its impact on the social sphere is important. Just as the automobile changed employment patterns (with rural residents commuting into the city) and architecture (creating the garage as a standard part of homes), so the telephone ended the drop-in visit and created telemarketing. It draws us closer electronically while distancing us physically. We are still debating the impact of the television, which seems to alter some family patterns extensively, and already we are discussing "Internet addiction." Telecommunications remains an expanding and changing field that alters us in ways we might fail to recognize.


Baran, P. "On Distributed Communication Networks." IEEE Transactions on Communications Systems (1 March 1964).

"Digital Divide, The." CQ Researcher 10, no. 3 (Jan 28,2000): 41–64.

Jensen, Peter. From the Wireless to the Web: The Evolution of Telecommunications, 1901–2001. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2000.

Lebow, Irwin. Information Highways and Byways: From the Telegraph to the 21st Century. New York: IEEE Press, 1995.

Lubar, Steven D. Info Culture: The Smithsonian Book of Information Age Inventions. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

McCarroll, Thomas. "How AT&T Plans to Reach Out and Touch Everyone." Time 142 (July 5,1993): 44–46.

Mitchell, William J. City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995. Available at

Winston, Brian. Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet. New York: Routledge, 1998.

William E.King

See alsoAT&T .


views updated May 29 2018


Telecommunications is long-distance communications in which a conglomeration of information-sharing networks is tied together. The word tele in Latin means distance; thus, telecommunication is distance communication. It is the merger of communications and computers. The term telecommunications refers to devices and systems that transmit electronic or optical signals across long distances. It is a process by which people around the world contact one another to access information instantly and to communicate from remote areas. It involves a sender of information and a recipient linked by technology, such as a telephone system. It is a medium for delivering news, data, information, and entertainmentlocally, nationally, and internationally.

Communication began as early as the existence of humankind. The evolution of communication systems has included primitive sign language, pounding drums, smoke signals, fire signals, the telegraph, the telephone, wireless communication, and satellite communication. To succeed in this world, communication has become a vital tool in everyday living. With telecommunications systems, individuals access information, bank, and shop online; and professionals are linked together by very complex computer networks. Communications technology has reshaped the world. Radio, television, computers, the Internet, and wireless networks have made it easier and more affordable to stay in touch. Communication has become a way of life. Communications technology has revolutionized the way people stay connected.

Telecommunication messages are transmitted in a variety of ways. Messages are sent from one sender to a single receiver (point-to-point) or from one sender to many receivers (point-to-multipoint). Point-to-point transmission includes personal communications such as a telephone conversation or a facsimile (fax).

Telegraphs, phones, radios, and television modify electronic signals; this form of transmission is known as analog transmission, used to transmit electrical voltages representing variations in sound levels. Computers and other electronic equipment transmit digital information. This means that the transmission is sent over wires, cables, or radio waves and then decoded by a digital receiver.

Personal computers (PCs) communicate with each other via networks using the phone network, such as the Internet. Computers rely on broadband networks provided by telephone and cable companies to send music, text, photography, and video over the Internet at high speeds. Different types of transmission media are employed, including copper wires, fiber-optic cables, communication satellites, and microwave radio. Telecommunications media use wire-based or wire-line communications to link phones and phone networks to transmit messages, or use wireless communication that employs technologies such as cordless phones, cell phones, pagers, and satellites.


The most widely used resource is the Internet. The Internet enables students and teachers to participate in discussions, conduct research, and access electronic libraries and databases. This tool has been referred to as the "virtual classroom." One major component of the Internet, the World Wide Web, has gained popularity through the use of Web browsers, enabling the end user to access information on a variety of subjects.

The trend of distance learning is growing. The instructor and students participate in an interactive setting separated geographically by time and place. The objective of distance learning is providing equitable access to quality education and yet meets the unique differentiated learning styles and needs of individual students. Technologies used for distance education include satellite delivery, television broadcast, compressed video, computer conferencing, multimedia, audio conferencing, radio, and videotapes. Remote education and training activities in one's home will continue to become increasingly common.

The telephone has become a self-service information-access device. Individuals use a phone and/or the Internet to check bank balances, transfer funds, pay bills, check interest rates, obtain stock quotes, and place trades. One can locate retailers, purchase goods and services, and make flight arrangementsconfirming flight information and seat assignments without speaking with an airline agent.

Computers have become an integral part of twenty-first century lives through a variety of ways. The Internet enables users to communicate with friends and colleagues in an efficient manner. It provides the opportunity to provide education and conduct research in innovative and individual ways that are constantly changing.

Electronic business (e-business) is any type of transaction, banking, or investing that occurs online. Consumers can conduct their banking and use credit cards to make purchases, and vendors can accept payments online. Consumers can shop around, investigate and explore, research products and services, and make intelligent buying decisions.

Selling products directly to consumers via the Internet has grown significantly, with telecommunications being used as a sales channel for marketing goods and services. With telemarketing advancing, customer service has increased in importance as a competitive tool for telemarketing companies to provide quick service.


Since the 1990s, government-sanctioned telecommunications monopolies have given way to markets opened to competition yet subject to heavy regulations. Technological advances are causing fragmented markets to converge. Firms face increased competition in their traditional markets even as technology simultaneously offers them new business opportunities. The industry is responding with consolidation, while regulators struggle to keep up the pace.

Growth opportunities in telecommunications have shifted to customized services, such as asynchronous transfer and packet-based on demand. New technologies have transformed the telecommunications business from horizontal services and carrier control of networks to become customer-rather than carrier-centric.

In the coming years the borderless enterprise, using such technologies as real-time Internet applications and data sharing, will be turning business inside out in an effort to improve efficiency and customer serviceand changing the rules for the telecommunications industry. To accomplish this, businesses will be using Internet protocol (IP) and broadband. IP powers the consumer Internet, the corporate extranet, and wide area networks of service providers. Moving out of the data world, it has now become a cornerstone of the converged networks, offering combined data and voice over IP implementations. Borderless enterprises are the mobile enterprises, conducting business through mobile personnel using a wide variety of devices to access and process information. In the communications market, mobile and data are the fastest-growing segments.


The complex world of telecommunications will continue to be full of challenges and provide one of the most exciting occupational fields in modern society. Development of new technology is constant, and its use in the technical systems that make up a telecommunications network create opportunities for further development of services for the consumer. The telecommunications industry is often referred to as an enabling industry.

The telephone, PC, and television will continue to exist and develop in parallel. The PC is used as a general-purpose office terminal for desktop conferences, data communication, electronic mail (e-mail), and information retrieval. Cordless and mobile telephones will complement the use of the PC.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that the telecommunications industry encompasses voice, video, and Internet communication services. Overcapacity, technological advances, mergers, and outsourcing will effect change in the job growth in this industry. The rapid technological changes in telecommunications will demand up-to-date technical skills and education; the individuals possessing these skills will have the best job opportunities.

The expansion of communications networks and the need for telecommunications providers to invest in research and development will create opportunities for electrical and electronics engineers. The use of increasingly sophisticated computer technology, however, will increase the employment of computer professionals, which includes computer software engineers, computer support specialists, and computer systems analysts, thus creating employment for engineering and computer and information systems managers. Rising demands for telecommunication services will result in a resumption of job growth in the industry.

Residential and business demands for high-capacity communications will lead to upgrades of telecommunications networks. Wireless demands and construction of a new generation of wireless systems will help the wireless portion of the industry. Individuals with up-to-date technical skills and communication degrees will have the best employment opportunities.

Implementing universal personal telecommunications requires access to network intelligence. Advanced computer support and coordination of the fixed mobile and paging networks is essential for the network operator to have in place. Universal personal telecommunication means calling a person directly instead of a terminal. Subscribers are assigned a personal number on which they can be reached regardless of their whereabouts.


Telecommunications is a technology on which every business depends. It is more than just phones. Technology convergence has advanced, enabling consumers to use phones, browse Web sites, talk to their families over the Internet, buy goods and services via TV, and carry music collections on a flash drive.

Electronic communication such as telephone calls, e-mail, cable TV, and satellite broadcasts is a vital part of personal life and is important to business. Businesses are a part of the telecommunications industry. They are concerned with communications as they build and install communication equipment such as fax equipment, video cameras, compact disk players, PCs, and telephones. Companies that create messages or content that the technologies carry, such as movies, books, and software, are also concerned with telecommunications; they need to communicate and coordinate their products and services to inform others outside their business. They are a part of the media or telecommunications industries. Telecommunications in operations of any business provides effective services and products to customers. It gives individuals access to worldwide information and services.

The Internet and the proliferation of mobile devices such as the mobile phone and personal digital assistants have changed the way businesses communicate. Key challenges that face business enterprises are mobility, customer satisfaction and cost optimization. With emerging technologiessuch as Session Initiation Protocol, Voice eXtensible Markup Language, Web services, and speech recognitiona new generation of multimedia applications and services enables business enterprises to face these challenges. New technologies bring new services and business opportunities. Collaboration and communications have become the cornerstones of successful competition and effective customer service. These changes reshape the requirements for enterprise communications and networking.

see also Communications in Business ; Electronic Mail ; Telecommuting


Brock, Gerald W. (1981). The telecommunications industry: The dynamics of market structure. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The changing nature of telecommunications/information infrastructure. (1995). Retrieved February 1, 2006, from

Exploring the digital divide: Charting the terrain of technology access and opportunity. (2001). Retrieved February 1, 2006, from

Gullickson, Paul (2001, March). The promise and challenge of a connected world. T.H.E Journal, 27 (8), 5054.

Kleinrock, Leonard (2005, March 9). The history of the Internet. Retrieved February 1, 2006, from

Telecommunications research and development. (2005, October 24). Retrieved February 1, 2006, from

The 2006 telecommunications industry review: An anthology of market facts and forecasts. (2005). Boonton, NJ: Insight Research.

Mary Nemesh


views updated May 11 2018


Telecommunications is acknowledged by many observers to be the hottest industry segment in the early twenty-first century. The word telecommunications comes from "tele," which means "distant," and "communication," which means "to make common." Thus, telecommunications is about sharing (or making common) information over distance.

The telecommunications industry consists of several distinct components, including telephony, the broadcast of audio and visual signals via cable and radio frequencies, and computer communications. Telegraphy was the earliest form of telecommunications, but this technology has all but disappeared from commercial use.

Birth of Telecommunications

Telecommunications began as a one-to-one form of communicating over geographic distances. The telegraph , which came into commercial operation in the late 1840s, was the first modern-day example of this form of communications. Because the telegraph required trained personnel at both ends of the line, all communication between individuals had to be processed through telegraph operators. The invention of the telephone in the mid-1870s eventually supplanted telegraphy, allowing users to communicate directly with one another.

The telephone was the first technology to allow a human voice to be transmitted over significant geographic distances. Until the late 1890s, telephone callers were limited to a relatively small geographic area. The growth of telephone networks required many supplementary inventions, notably the ability to switch calls. Although it was initially limited to short distances, telephone technology evolved to allow coast-to-coast calls across the United States by 1915. In parallel with this, automatic switching exchanges began to supplant human operators as early as 1900, although manual exchanges persisted in the United States for many decades to come.

Digital Telephony

In the 1960s, digital transmission technologies were introduced into the long distance telephone network. These were followed in short order by digital switches. These technologies allowed for improved telephone transmission quality. Today, all domestic long distance calls and many local calls are carried digitally over fiber optic networks. Internationally, some calls are still carried by satellite-based communications systems while others are transmitted via undersea fiber optic cables.

Other developments in telephony include the introduction of wireless communications for the purpose of mobility. Although these systems had been available for a very limited number of users as early as the 1950s, the development of cellular communications systems in the 1970s and 1980s enabled many more users to obtain the benefits of mobile telephone systems. By the 1990s, these systems had become widely available and very popular worldwide.

Broadcast Telecommunications

The broadcasting industry began in the 1920s as the ability to transmit speech via wireless radio became economically feasible. Prior to this, communications technology was limited to one-to-one communicationsthat is, one person communicating with exactly one other person. The transmission of speech over wireless systems made it possible for one sender to communicate with many receivers. Thus, one of the distinguishing features of broadcasting is that it is a one-to-many form of communication.

Until the 1950s, broadcasting and wireless communications were synonymous. All programming signals were transmitted to individual antennas that were either built in to televisions and radios or added to buildings to enhance signal reception. Around that time, communities in rural and mountainous areas, where it was difficult to receive over-the-air broadcast signals, began installing Community Antenna Television (CATV) systems. In these systems, a community would pool their resources to invest in an expensive antenna that was designed and placed for good signal reception. These superior signals were then distributed throughout the community via cables. Operators of cable systems gradually expanded their infrastructure and began to offer a rich variety of programming on these cable-based systems, making them attractive to viewers beyond their original service markets. Today, the majority of American communities are wired to provide television programming via cable systems.

Computer-Based Telecommunications

The computer networks of today had their genesis in the dedicated teleprocessing systems of the 1960s. These early computer networks were designed to support terminals communicating with a central mainframe computer. In the late 1960s, researchers began experimenting with different types of networks; ones that allowed any device on the network to communicate with any other device. Networks of this kind are called "peer-to-peer" networks, as each computer has the same operational privileges as any other computer.

As minicomputers became popular in the 1970s, networks of this kind expanded to meet new business needs and applications. Peer-to-peer networking accelerated with the development of local area networks (LANs) and microcomputers, better known as personal computers, in the 1980s. Concurrent with these developments in local network technologies, work continued on new systems such as wide area networks (WANs) that would be capable of interconnecting these LANs. The most ubiquitous and successful of these networks is the Internet.

The Internet is a network of networks designed to interconnect general purpose computers. The Internet was designed to be application-transparent, so users could develop any kind of networked application without having to make changes to the network. Thus, when the World Wide Web was developed in the late 1980s, the network could easily accommodate it. All that was needed were application programs in computers, called browsers, and hardware systems containing information, called servers, to be attached to the network. Despite many advances in technology and exponential growth in the number of computers on the network, the basic structure of the Internet remains intact.

Telecommunications Industry Challenges

The telecommunications industry is facing new technological pressures from the phenomenon of convergence. Since all major forms of communication are now transmitted primarily with digital technology, it is a relatively small matter for any of the network typesCATV, telephone, or computerto carry any type of information. So, for example, although CATV systems were originally designed for broadcast television service, technologies have converged such that cable systems carry not just television programming, but also high speed data for computer use and voice data for telephony.

The evolution of telecommunications has changed more than the physical aspects of our telecommunications networks. Along with the technological changes described earlier, dramatic changes have occurred in the way telecommunications companies do business in this industry, as well as in the way governments regulate the various networks. Advances in technology and evolving user expectations will continue to drive change in the telecommunications industry.

see also Apple Computer, Inc.; Bell Labs; Intel Corporation; Microsoft Corporation; Xerox Corporation.

Martin B. Weiss


Carne, E. Bryan. Telecommunications Primer: Data, Voice, and Video Communications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Dodd, Annabel Z. The Essential Guide to Telecommunications, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

Green, James H. The Irwin Handbook of Telecommunications Management, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.


views updated May 29 2018


The transmission of words, sounds, images, or data in the form of electronic or electromagnetic signals or impulses.

National Cable v. Brand X

By 2005, roughly 80 percent of computers with Internet service accessed the Web through dial-up connections, using local telephone wires to connect to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), and then on to the Internet. The other 20 percent were using "broadband" high-speed Internet service, much of which employed cable modem service that used television cable signals. (A smaller portion of the 20 percent also used telephone lines for dial-up service [DSL]. Because DSL lines were owned by "telecommunication services," DSL was classified as a telecommunication service by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).)

In its last decision of the term, National Cable & Telecommunications Assn v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. __, 125 S.Ct. 2688, __ L.Ed.2d __ (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court held, 6-3, that the FCC acted within its discretion in deciding to classify "high speed Internet connections" as non-telephonic. In so finding, the Court ruled that cable providers do not have to allow ISPs to use their services.

Invoked in the resolution of this case was the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. 151, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56, which defined two categories of relevant communications. "Information Service Providers" are those "offering…a capability for [processing] information via telecommunications [47 U.S.C. §153(20)], and, as such, not subject to mandatory regulation by the FCC. On the other hand, "telecommunications carriers," i.e., those "offering…telecommunications for a fee directly to the public…regardless of the facilities used," [47 U.S.C. §153(46)], are subject to mandatory regulation under Title II.

In a 2002 Declaratory Ruling, the FCC classified broadband cable modem services solely as "information services," not also as "telecommunications services," and effectively exempted high-speed Internet from the regulations. The Commission, in so holding, relied heavily on its Universal Service Report, which had earlier classified "non-facilities-based" ISPs (those not owning their own transmission facilities) solely as information service providers.

Various parties petitioned for review of the FCC decision, including several public interest groups seeking more fair and even-handed competition. The bundled cases were assigned by lottery to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. By coincidence, the Ninth Circuit previously had decided a case in which it held that cable modem service was a "telecommunications service." AT&T Corp v. Portland, 216 F.3d 871. This time around, and consistent with its earlier decision in Portland, to which it gave stare decisis effect, the Ninth Circuit vacated the FCC's Declaratory Ruling in part and remanded for further proceedings. In relying on Portland, the appellate circuit court held that the FCC was not authorized to construe the Communications Act so as to exempt cable companies providing cable modem service from mandatory Title II regulation. In effect, the Ninth Circuit's decision called for equal classification and treatment of DSL and cable modems alike. The FCC appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court. He wrote that the Ninth Circuit erroneously relied on its own precedent in Portland, rather than on the Supreme Court case of Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), which expressly explained the deferential permissibility afforded federal agencies in their construction of statutes within their jurisdiction to administer. Accordingly, said the Supreme Court, the FCC's conclusion that broadband cable modem companies are exempt from mandatory common-carrier regulation was a permissible and lawful construction of the Communications Act under Chevron and the Administrative Procedure Act (discussed in Chevron).

In Chevron, the Court held that federal courts must defer to an agency's construction, even if it differs from what a court considers to be the best interpretation (provided, that the statute is within the agency's jurisdiction to administer; that the statute is ambiguous on the relevant issue; and that the agency's construction is reasonable). Here, the FCC had statutory authority to "execute and enforce" the Communications Act and to "prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary…to carry out the [Act's] provisions," and there was no dispute that the order was within the FCC's jurisdiction.

Further, noted the Court, a court's prior construction of a statute trumps an agency construction otherwise entitled to Chevron deference only if the prior court decision held that its construction followed from the unambiguous terms of the statute itself and thus left no room for agency discretion. The Ninth Circuit's Portland decision held only that the best reading of 47 U.S.C. §153(46) was that cable modem service was a "telecommunications service." Because the previous case did not determine that this was the only permissible reading or that the Act unambiguously required it, the Ninth Circuit erred in applying Portland rather than Chevron.

Justice Thomas was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, and Breyer. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Souter and Ginsburg as to Part I, in which the dissent found the FCC's reading of the statute to be "implausible" and therefore, under the guise of statutory construction, "attempt[ing] to concoct 'a whole new regime of regulation,"' thereby exceeding its authority.


views updated May 18 2018


American Telephone and Telegraph Company


BCE Inc.

Bell Atlantic Corporation

BellSouth Corporation

British Telecommunications plc

Cable and Wireless plc

Deutsche Bundespost Telekom

France Télécom Group

GTE Corporation

Koninklijke PTT Nederland NV

MCI Communications Corporation

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation

Northern Telecom Limited

NYNEX Corporation

österreichische Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung

Pacific Telesis Group

Schweizerische Post-, Telefon- und Telegrafen-Betriebe

Società Finanziaria Telefonica per Azioni

Southwestern Bell Corporation

Swedish Telecom

Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson

Telefónica de España, S.A.

U S West, Inc.

United Telecommunications, Inc.


views updated May 11 2018

telecommunications Technology involved in the sending of information over a distance. The information comes in a variety of forms, such as digital signals, sounds, printed words, or images. The sending is achieved through telegraph, telephone or radio, and the medium may be wires or electromagnetic (radio) waves, or a combination of the two. There are two basic types of message: digital signals, in which the message is converted into simple, coded pulses and then sent (as in Morse code); and analogue signals, in which the message – for example, a human voice – is converted into a series of electrical pulses that are similar in wave form to the modulations of the original message. See also fax; satellite, who inaugurated (1844) the first public line – between Washington and Baltimore. In 1866, the first permanently successful telegraph cable was laid across the Atlantic. In 1875, Thomas Edison invented a method of transmitting several messages simultaneously over the same wire.


views updated Jun 08 2018

tel·e·com·mu·ni·ca·tion / ˌteləkəˌmyoōniˈkāshən/ • n. communication over a distance by cable, telegraph, telephone, or broadcasting. ∎  (telecommunications) [treated as sing.] the branch of technology concerned with such communication. ∎ formal a message sent by such means.


views updated Jun 08 2018