School of History and Sociology
Ph.D. Defense by Wayne Drews
“EVOLUTION OF UNITED STATES TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY, TECHNOLOGY, AND COMPETITION AT THE BELL OPERATING COMPANIES 1952-1996”
Thursday, October 5
Old Civil Engineering Bldg Mel 104
This dissertation focuses on impacts of technology innovation and governmental policies on the telecommunications industry from the 1950s until the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Special attention is given to the local Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) and to the changes initially driven by competition in Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). Ultimately, it was the federal court’s decision in January 1982, resulting in AT&T’s divestiture of the BOCs, which permanently changed the landscape. This study begins well before 1982 to consider the BOCs’ tradition of control over all telephone services and the significance of losing that control.
The terminal, subscriber loop, central office switches, and interoffice trunks had for many years been the exclusive province of the regulated telephone operating company. Communications lines and terminals were indivisible and installation of any subscriber-owned equipment violated the federal and state tariffs and carried with it the penalty of service disconnection. The demise of that tradition occurred because of technology evolution, initiatives of competitors, changes in customer requirements, BOC responses, and ultimately the actions of governmental bodies. To fully appreciate impacts of the court-ordered divestiture and the ramifications of various adjustments necessary by the divested BOCs, mandated that this study extends into the years of the mid-nineties.
Even though most historical attention rests with AT&T Headquarters, the BOCs were also key to the processes. Archives of the BOCs were explored and provided details previously unstudied by historians. Other primary sources were media accounts from the period, proceedings of governmental agencies and industry forums, and interviews of individuals involved in the events. Impacts on technical standards were investigated as modifications were critical to success but difficult to achieve. Ironically, AT&T’s attitude of invincibility, due to its size and importance to society, was a significant factor in the loss of their monopoly position. In the end, a breakup would be done and the open competition delivered significant benefits.
Dr. Steven Usselman
Dr. John Krige
Dr. Doug Flamming
Dr. William Winders
Dr. Richard Barke (Public Policy)