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Advances in the technology and organization of telecommunication systems now taking place in the United Kingdom, in common with other highly industrialized countries, will significantly affect the future of telecommunications. Typical of these are new and large information handling capacity transmission media of very wide bandwidth such as waveguides and optical fibers exploiting pulsecode modulation (PCM) digital techniques, computer controlled switching systems using digital time-division switches, large-scale integrated (LSI) circuits, high-capacity and fast access memory devices, and new types of solid-state visual display and image sensing devices. These technological advances will not only contribute to the growth and improvement of telephone service, they will also make possible and economic a number of new telecommunication services such as fast data and facsimile transmission (including an electronic mail delivery service), conference television, videophones, and visual display (data access) information services. They could also enhance the range of entertainment sound and television services available in the home, and provide audio/visual services for education and community purposes via broad-band local distribution networks. These technological and system advances may well have significant social implications. Although the rate at which demand for the new services will develop is uncertain, the falling cost of electronics, the rising cost of energy, time and physical transport, the increasing size of the information handling sector of the economy, and the increasing share of business and household expenditure being devoted to communications, all point to an important long-term future for the new services. Whilst the operations of a telecommunications administration need to be based on economic market demand, there may well be significant social considerations with regard to some sections of the community, e.g., the poor, the handicapped, and the old, that must also be taken into account. Also relevant and needing further study is the extent to which enhanced telecommunications can provide an acceptable substitute for existing media such as newspapers, the letter mail, and face-to-face meetings between people. The costs of such substitution are o- ften difficult to determine in a meaningful way, nevertheless situations may arise where social reasons such as the need to improve the environment by reducing the need for business motivated travel and by facilitating the dispersal of industry may override narrow economic considerations. There is an interesting contrast between European countries such as the United Kingdom with a state-owned telecommunications monopoly where the integration of services into a common system may be more readily achievable, and the United States where antitrust legislation has developed a fragmentation of the telecommunication service industry. The United States environment generates a strong stimulus to innovation, whereas the European environment may enable innovation to be more effectively exploited. Of critical importance are the governmental regulatory processes by which an optimization of enhanced telecommunications from the economic, social, environmental, and commerical viewpoints may be achieved.
Date of Publication: Oct 1975