instantaneous transmission of news and information across the globe
was made possible in the 1830s by the invention of the telegraph,
the invention that gave rise to the word "telecommunications". The
electric telegraph machine was created through efforts of Morse,
Wheatstone and Cooke, and telegraphy began in England in 1837.
the early days of cross-national communication, messages were encoded
on a telegraph machine and sent to the bordering country for transcription,
usually by a national post office, and then sent to their destination.
Messages could not be sent directly from a source in one country
to a receiver in another country because a common code was not used.
need for technical standardization was recognized by Prussia and
Austria and in October l849, these two countries made the first
attempt to link telegraph systems with a common code. One year later,
an agreement between these two countries, Bavaria and Saxony created
the Austro-German Telegraph Union. The success of this first union
gave rise to additional unions such as the International Telegraph
Union, then later to the International Radio Conferences, and finally,
in 1865, the to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Today, the ITU is the sole regulating institution with power to
regulate the transfer of data throughout the world.
1947 the ITU became an agency in the United Nations. According to
a 1982 ITU Convention report the purposes of the ITU are as follows:
(1) to maintain and foster rational use of telecommunications and
to offer technical assistance; (2) to promote and improve efficient
use of technical equipment and operations; and (3) to coordinate
and promote a positive world environment for the achievement of
the above goals.
the speed of telecommunications inventions increases, so too does
the importance of the ITU. The evolution of telecommunications technology
during the twentieth century is so great that telecommunications
effects almost every aspect of life and the role of the ITU continues
to extend into new areas of concern. The three major areas of jurisdiction
for the ITU are: (1) distribution of radio and satellite services
and assignments (2) establishment of international telecommunications
standards; and (3) regulation of international information exchange
such as telephony, telegraphy, and computer data. The ITU also plays
a vital role in telecommunications assistance for developing countries.
hundred and sixty countries within the United Nations (UN) have
representatives in the ITU. Each of these countries gets one vote
on ITU decisions. The general meeting of the ITU is held once every
few years and is called the Plenipotentiary Conference. The chief
objective of this conference is to review and revise the ITU
Convention, which is the governing document of the Union. The
one-country, one-vote format often leads to voting blocks based
on country alliances, and creates the political nature of the ITU.
The voting blocks and the tenets of the new World Information Order
threaten the existence of the ITU. Many developing countries in
the UN want to break the dominant flow of information from Northern
industrialized countries to Southern developing countries. The Northern
industrialized countries want to continue the "free flow" of information
while the developing countries in the South want a balanced flow
to ensure control of socio-cultural development.
A second aspect that threatens the existence of the ITU is the fact
that the speed at which technological changes occur is greater than
the ITU's international standards process can accommodate. Thus,
several other standards organizations have developed such as the
T1 Committee of the Exchange Carriers Standards Association in the
United States, the Telecommunications Technology Committee (TTC)
in Japan, and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute
(ETSI). These regional standards organizations (RSOs) offer a more
homogeneous membership than the ITU which makes the standardization
response to the RSOs, the ITU has streamlined its standards process
and has restructured its voting rules so that decisions can be made
by ballot between Plenipotentiary Conferences. It remains to be
seen whether the ITU will maintain its status as the world's telecommunications
Courtesy of ITU
George A. The International Communication Union: An Experiment
in International Cooperation. New York: Arno, 1972.
George A., with Anthony M. Rutkowski. The International Telecommunication
Union in a Changing World. Dedham, Massachusetts: Artech, 1982.
Communication in the Space Age: Toward a New ITU. (report on
an International Conference). New York: John and Mary R. Markle
Monica. "ITU--125 Years Old: At the Cutting Edge of Telecommunications."
UN Chronicle (New York), September, 1990.
Irmer, Theodor. "Shaping Future Telecommunications: The Challenge
of Global Standardization." IEEE Communications Magazine (New
York), January, 1994.
Lauria White, Rita, and Harold M. White, Jr. The Law and Regulation
of International Space Communication. Boston: Artech, 1988.
Leive, David M., editor. The Future of the International Telecommunication
Union; A Report For The 1973 Plenipotentiary Conference, American
Society of International Law. (panel report on International
Telecommunications Policy.) American Society of International Law
(Washington, D.C.), 1972.
Donald J. "A New Departure for the ITU." Telecommunications Policy
(Guildford, England), April, 1995.
James G. The Politics of International Telecommunication Regulation.
Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1989.
and Practices; Television