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Network Nation : Inventing American Telecommunications - Richard R. John

Network Nation

Inventing American Telecommunications

Hardcover

Published: 21st May 2010
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The telegraph and the telephone were the first electrical communications networks to become hallmarks of modernity. Yet they were not initially expected to achieve universal accessibility. In this pioneering history of their evolution, Richard R. John demonstrates how access to these networks was determined not only by technological imperatives and economic incentives but also by political decision making at the federal, state, and municipal levels. In the decades between the Civil War and the First World War, Western Union and the Bell System emerged as the dominant providers for the telegraph and telephone. Both operated networks that were products not only of technology and economics but also of a distinctive political economy. Western Union arose in an antimonopolistic political economy that glorified equal rights and vilified special privilege. The Bell System flourished in a progressive political economy that idealized public utility and disparaged unnecessary waste.

The popularization of the telegraph and the telephone was opposed by business lobbies that were intent on perpetuating specialty services. In fact, it wasn't until 1900 that the civic ideal of mass access trumped the elitist ideal of exclusivity in shaping the commercialization of the telephone. The telegraph did not become widely accessible until 1910, sixty-five years after the first fee-for-service telegraph line opened in 1845.

"Network Nation" places the history of telecommunications within the broader context of American politics, business, and discourse. This engrossing and provocative book persuades us of the critical role of political economy in the development of new technologies and their implementation.

This is a valuable book on the technological and economic trends that impacted the popularization of the telephone, one of the most profoundly significant inventions in the record of humanity. To understand the history of American telecommunications is to attend to the political economies at the time technological innovation occurred. John brilliantly articulates this context. Shifting municipal and federal sensibilities always shaped the diffusion of technologies, even in times where strong federal governmental oversight did not yet exist. The threat of federal and municipal government ownership of telecommunication systems was real, as seen in the case of the Bell system (and its failure). -- Jim Hahn Library Journal Could it be that Americans actually like communications monopolists? Do we want dominant firms to run our world? Richard R. John's splendid book helps to answer that question by telling us just where this American affection for info-monopoly came from. John has produced a detailed study of the grand-daddies of it all: AT&T and Western Union, the first great info-monopolists, whose role in communications history is similar to that of the Allosaurus and the T. Rex in the history of the animal kingdom. A work of careful history based on archival research, Network Nation begins with Samuel Morse's construction of the first electric telegraph line in 1844 and concludes with the establishment of AT&T (or Bell, a term that can be used interchangeably with AT&T) as America's regulated telephone monopoly...What Network Nation does deliver is a nuanced answer to the basic question, why monopoly? -- Tim Wu New Republic 20110609

List of Illustrations and Tablesp. vii
Introduction: Inventing American Telecommunicationsp. 1
Making a Neighborhood of a Nationp. 5
Professor Morse's Lightningp. 24
Antimonopolyp. 65
The New Postalic Dispensationp. 114
Rich Man's Mailp. 156
The Talking Telegraphp. 200
Telephomaniap. 238
Second Naturep. 269
Gray Wolvesp. 311
Universal Servicep. 340
One Great Medium?p. 370
Epilogue: The Technical Millenniump. 407
Chronology of American Telecommunicationsp. 415
Notesp. 425
Acknowledgmentsp. 501
Indexp. 505
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780674024298
ISBN-10: 067402429X
Audience: Professional
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 528
Published: 21st May 2010
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.5  x 4.0
Weight (kg): 0.9