In 1846 legislature passed an act to incorporate the New York and Offing Magnetic Telegraph Association, thus cementing its favorable stance on public control of communications systems. In terms of preventing monopolies over information, and in light of Henry George’s public letter against the natural monopoly given to the Western Union Telegraph Company, I contend that this act was not as successful and therefore not justified.
In the 1838 letter to Congress, Morse made his own opinion clear that it should be the government to regulate the system, but to have checks and balances to prevent any overt control of information. Like others, he saw the potential of the telegraph to be “so extensive for good and for evil” that the government should control and regulate it (2). He goes on to explain that the main “evil” for the telegraph is the potential for a monopoly to end up controlling the flow of information. “In the hands of a company of speculators,” he states, “who should monopolize it for themselves, it might be the means of enriching the corporation at the expense of the bankruptcy of thousands; and even in the hands of Government alone, it might become a means of working vast mischief to the republic.” (Report 753, 2)
Ironically, the passing of this act to quash private monopolies failed in the newspaper industry. In 1869, George’s letter reveals that despite the “liberal policy adopted” by Western Union, in response to attention by Congress, they charged the Herald more than 200% for the same amount of words (“$2000 per month for its 500”) in order to drive the Herald out. That this collusion was able to go on years after government took control of the telegraph shows that the act was inefficient in what it set out to do. -Trisha
Based on the readings, I believe that the government has some right to intervene in the operation of communication systems. Morse claims that, “the sole right of using the telegraph [belongs]… to the Government,” but the government can give private companies permission to create new, separate lines. Morse admits that there is a potential for evil, but aside from stating that the government, given sole use of the telegraph can be a “vast mischief to the republic,” does not mention any ways in which the government can commit evil (Morris 8-9). On that note, Morris did suggest pairing the telegraph system with the postal service, another government run communication system, which hasn’t been corrupted yet (at least to my knowledge) (Morse 7).
If the government hoarded communication to themselves, benefits such as giving people the ability to instantly contact help during an emergency could harm the public (Colt and Robinson 1). If the government did not hoard it, but tapped lines, that would infringe on various rights, but Morse did state the need for separate public and government lines plus the value of privacy in conversations. If the government is too involved, there is definitely potential for “evil” on their part. On the other hand, with little government intervention, there is the problem of monopolies (Morse 8). Without the government keeping checks on who is providing telegraph services, monopolies can form and small businesses, such as newspapers, that rely on communication can be destroyed (George 1). -Linsey
Certainly there are a lot of reasons that the government is justified in intervening in the operation of communication systems. As Morse himself pointed out, only having a company regulate it may cause a monopoly where profits would “[enrich] the corporation at the expense of the bankruptcy of thousands” (8). Certainly in the case of the San Francisco Herald, the monopoly held by the Western Telegraph Union was a major cause for concern. As Henry George, an agent for the Herald, clearly argued, it is easily possible for a monopoly to bankrupt a single entire newspaper company by changing the prices charged per word. But the telegraph is useful for more than just news, as Samuel Colt pointed out, as it could be used to alert rescue personnel of “tales of suffering and shipwreck” so that “relief [might be] furnished sooner than by any other means” (1). Monopoly or oligopoly control of this type of service could be quite risky and put lives in danger. While Morse was also cautious of the government maintaining sole control of the telegraph, he suggested that it would “seem natural to connect a telegraphic system with the Post Office Department” (7). While the United States government may not have the right to have sole control over the telegraph, the government may be justified in intervening as it holds power, by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, to “regulate Commerce… among the several states”. The government, then, does not have ownership of the technology should have the ability to intervene if it is misused. -Josh
The government is justified in intervening in the operation of communication systems. Morse believes the government should have the right to regulate the operations of the telegraph since the invention is so powerful that it can be used for either good or evil (2). Morse fears that an unregulated telegraph operation system would have problematic effects in which some private individuals or corporations would monopolize it for profit at the expense of others (8). He however does recognize that the government could also use it for “mischief” at the expense of the republic (8). However, he argues that regulation has more positive benefits. He proposes that the government should be in charge of granting, for “a specified sum or bonus” to any individual or company who would like to “lay down a way of communication between any two points” (8). The government would also have the ability to communicate “independent of private permission” (9). This for him is “a system of checks and preventives of abuse” (9). Colt and Robinson also requested government help to lay down lines for the electro-magnetic telegraph from New York City to Long Island and New Jersey (1). The government for them has the ability to provide the necessary capital for this grand project, and furthermore, the benefits from instantaneous commercial news would benefit the trade operations of the “the greatest commercial city on the continent” (1). Trade is, in other words, an important concern that benefits the government and public (1) -My