In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Telecommunications History/Policy

  • Introduction

Communication Telecommunications History/Policy
James Schwoch, John Laprise, Ivory Mills
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0035


This bibliography on telecommunication history and policy is organized with a global perspective as the fundamental concept for understanding the past, present, and future of telecommunication issues. Placing the global first and foremost is shaped by contemporary conditions. Nation-state and regional actions and analyses remain extremely important, and often run against the grain, wittingly or unwittingly, of global trajectories and concepts. Indeed, through the latter half of the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, the actions, decisions, and policies of nations and empires tell us more about the history of telecommunication than do global-level actions, decisions, and policies. Yet from the start, telecommunication was always a potentially borderless process, a series of theories and practices that could be and often were construed as global—even if that global vision was little more than a future fantasy for many theorists and practitioners. The visions of the past and the realities of the present argue in favor of a global continuity, a globalization now realized, as a central organizational schema for understanding telecommunication history and policy. Finally, the centrality of a global approach is likely to be thematically and organizationally sustainable for future research and scholarship regarding telecommunication history and telecommunication policy.

The Global Regulatory Domains

Herein we focus on three global regulatory domains: the International Telegraph Union, which began in 1865 and later changed its name to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU); the ITU from after its incorporation into the United Nations to the present day; and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the major global regulatory domain for the Internet. The ITU was founded by European nations in response to emergent problems in the internationalization of telegraphy, including conflicting technical standards across national borders, questions about billing practices for telegrams crossing national boundaries, and issues regarding new technological developments in telegraphy. Membership expanded beyond Europe starting in the early 1900s. The ITU was, at this time, headquartered in Switzerland. The Second World War had a significant impact on the ITU, including the expulsion of Germany and Japan (later readmitted). In 1947, as part of the organization of the United Nations, the ITU was brought into the UN system as a United Nations agency, and remains a part of the UN. ICANN was created in 1998. Although the ITU and other global regulatory domains do have relevance to Internet-based issues—particularly regarding issues related to the physical wire-and-wave–based global infrastructure that provides Internet global connectivity—Internet policy has, in the main, seen the development of its own global regulatory domain, most prominently represented by ICANN. Unlike the ITU, whose membership is centrally composed of nation-states, ICANN is a private-sector nonprofit corporation centrally involved in policy issues and technical challenges regarding the Internet Domain Name System. Beyond the ITU and ICANN, other global regulatory agencies and nongovernmental organizations do impact telecommunication policy and history, including, but not limited to, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). This section includes the main websites for ITU, ICANN, WTO, and IGF. For all of these organizations, their websites are significant resources for research.

  • International Telecommunications Union.

    The home page provides links to a wealth of data. For historical work and for a summary of ITU structure, the about ITU link leads to overviews. The Newsroom provides current press releases. Publications offers thousands of reports and analyses. Statistics offers a significant amount of accessible data.

  • Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

    The ICANN website provides beginner’s guides that are quick tutorials on the basics of ICANN. In addition, information on newly awarded gTLDs (generic top-level domains, such as com, edu, gov, and org) and recent domain name transfers. Also available are news and media announcements, policy reports, and similar resources.

  • Internet Governance Forum.

    The IGF promotes dialogue, best practices, social and economic development, and the organized study and research of cooperative public-private policies and approaches to Internet governance and growth. The Documents section provides a number of globally themed reports.

  • World Trade Organization.

    At the WTO site, Trade Topics leads to links covering import licensing, information technology, intellectual technology, electronic commerce, and technical barriers to trade. Also available is a news site, and a documents site.

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