Tag Archives: universal service Bell System Theodore Vail FCC Susan Crawford E911 CALEA VoIP

Universal Service Considered Harmful

Fine-sounding slogans are fine ways to hide restraint of trade:
…when the Bell System’s Theodore Vail made up the term “universal service” in 1907 what he was really trying to do was squelch competitive phone networks — there were a lot of them, and they were doing very well, and Vail wanted to convince everyone that one phone system would be a far better idea. So the idea behind universal service in the early 20th century wasn’t spreading phone connectivity (competition had been doing a good job at that) or underwriting costs (because costs were being pushed lower by competition). It was, instead, the notion that being able to reach everyone on a single, centrally-managed phone network was a good idea.

Universal service, by Susan Crawford, Susan Crawford blog, Tue 13 Mar 2007 09:33 PM EDT

In other words, interconnectivity. But with a centralized aspect, which wasn’t necessary technically, yet was optimal for building a monopoly. Thus the notion was used to squelch small competitors. Continue reading