- How many
still remember the abbreviation PTT? … Postes
Télégraphes et Téléphones.
- It stood
for the government agencies responsible for postal and telecommunications
- In the
80s, all leading countries, with the exception of the U.S., had their own
- In Italy
we had the Ministry for Post and Telecommunications and its associated
companies (SIP, ASST, Italcable, Telespazio…).
- For about
a century, the postal and telecommunications services were entirely under
the control of the PTT.
- This control
extended to other apparatus: telephones, telex, fax, telephone exchanges,
all were supplied and controlled by the PTT.
- The first
connections between terminals and computers were revolutionary in one way:
the telephone network began to be used to communicate with apparatus not
controlled by the PTT.
- The monopolistic
concept of telecommunications began to waver when user apparatus started
being used not only to produce or receive information, but also for simple
transfer of data: users began setting up networks, so that data produced
by user A to be sent to user E passed, before arriving at its destination,
through the apparatus of users B, C and D.
- It became
possible for organizations other than the national PTT to manage data transmission
harm if they were used only within organizations. Little harm if they were
only experimental networks, used by small communities of researchers.
- More threatening,
from the point of view of the PTT, were the networks controlled externally
and used by several organizations, such as airline booking systems and
most of the national postal systems did not have a data transmission network
to provide an alternative: for example, in Italy ITAPAC was launched only
in 1985 as an experimental service available in just a few towns.
to compete on a technological level, the PTTs defended themselves with
tariff policies, deciding that if a dedicated circuit was used to transmit
data between organizations they would have to pay not only for renting
the circuit, but also for the quantity of data transmitted.
- Even though
the first fees for volume were particularly exorbitant because based on
comparisons with those for telegraphy and telex, the PTTs found little
opposition from banks and airline companies, who transmitted small quantities
of data and had no difficulty in paying.
- The crunch
came between 1983 and 1984, when, under the name of EARN, BITNET came to
Europe, a network already widely used by north American universities.
- EARN was
not a packet switching network: it was more "file switching",
because it was used to send files from sender to recipient and every file
could pass, en route, through intermediary nodes, where it was temporarily
stored in non-volatile memory.
to the existing rules, users would have to pay, not only line-rental fees
(very expensive at the time) but also the traffic by volume, paying, for
the same file, for all of the circuits passed through.
ever paid for EARN traffic, but for some years all parties concerned played
along with the pretence that EARN would channel its traffic over PTT data
lines as soon as this was technically possible and, in exchange for a declaration
to this effect (which no-one believed), the PTTs asked for no payment for
- Over time,
the PTTs sharpened their weapons. Opposing the networks also became anachronistic
as a policy.
- Some countries
began privatizing telecommunications.
- When a
proposal to found the Internet Society was announced in Copenhagen in 1991
(by the way, at an EARN convention), the idea that the owners of the networks
were the users and not the operating companies was no longer revolutionary.
- The Internet
network we know today, with no owners and open to all, is the fruit of
resolute resistance by the academic worlds of the universities and research
institutes to the monopoly operators of the 80s.