The Unraveling, Part 2

After authorizing private microwave networks in the Above 890 decision, the FCC might have hoped that they could leave those networks penned in their quiet little corner of the market and forget about them. But this quickly proved impossible. New challengers continued to press against the existent regulatory framework. They proposed a variety of new ways to…

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Extending Interactivity

In the early 1960s, interactive computing began to spread out from the few tender saplings nurtured at Lincoln Lab and MIT - spread in two different senses. First, the computers themselves sprouted tendrils, that reached out across buildings, campuses, and towns to allow users to interact at a distance, and to allow many users to…

Discovering Interactivity

The very first electronic computers were idiosyncratic, one-off research installations.1 But as they entered the marketplace, organizations very quickly assimilated them into a pre-existing culture of data-processing - one in which all data and processes were represented as stacks of punched cards. Herman Hollerith developed the first tabulator capable of reading and counting data based…

The Unraveling, Part 1

For some seventy years, AT&T, parent company of the Bell System, was all but unrivaled in domestic American telecommunications. For most of that time, General Telephone, later known as GT&E and then simply GTE, was AT&T's only rival of any significance. Yet it accounted for a mere two million telephone lines at mid-century, less than…

One System, Universal Service?

The Internet was born in a distinctly American telecommunications environment -- the United States treated telegraph and telephone providers very differently than the rest of the world -- and there is good reason to believe that this environment played a formative role in its development, shaping the character of the Internet to come. Let us,…

The Backbone: Introduction

In the early 1970s, Larry Roberts approached AT&T, the vast American telecommunications monopoly, with an intriguing offer. At the time, Roberts was director of  the computing division of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a relatively young organization within the Department of Defense that was dedicated to long-term, blue-sky research. Over the previous five years, Roberts…

The Switch: Introduction

The history of nearly any technology, when examined closely, is a complex braid. What might appear on the surface to be a single ‘invention’ is revealed to be a series of often unrelated ideas and motivations, recombinations and repurposings, that coalesce at last, after decades, into something that we dub the sewing machine, or the…

The Transistor, Part 2: Out Of The Crucible

The crucible of war prepared the ground for the transistor. The state of technical knowledge about semiconductor devices advanced enormously from 1939 to 1945. There was one simple reason: radar. The single most important technology of the war, its applications included detecting incoming air raids, locating submarines, guiding nightfighters to their targets, and aiming anti-aircraft…