Chapter 11Economists and the Telecommunications Revolution

Perhaps no sector in modern economies has been more transformed by technological change than telecommunications. Young readers of this book surely take this for granted because they have known no other world: the ability to talk, text, watch videos, listen to music, and access an almost unlimited amount of information via the Internet, anytime over mobile phones or on landline connections. There are so many television channels available it is hard to keep track of them.

But this state of affairs is all relatively new, and is nothing like what older readers of this book will remember. Before the Internet, communications in modern countries consisted of voice and data messages routed largely over wire-based telephone networks. Poor countries were hardly wired, while most countries had only one or a few television channels, owned by the state or a wealthy connected few.

In this chapter, I focus on the contributions of economists to the sea change in the telecommunications landscape over the past several decades. As I tried to avoid with the energy revolution, I am also not going to overreach here. Certainly, the lion’s share of the credit for the changes goes to the inventors, engineers, and computer scientists, among others, who developed and commercialized the multiple technologies that characterize the modern telecommunications industry.

My more modest, though I believe still powerful, claim is that economists played ...

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