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Are there examples of technologies developed since 1984 that would not have been likely to be developed had the Bell system stayed intact rather than being broken up by the US government?

UPDT: To make this a bit less speculative, let's pose some specific subquestions:

(a) which post-1984 technologies have Bell Labs antecedents?

(b) What were the main topics on which Bell Labs was working in the 1970s and early 1980s?

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Difficult to measure technological innovation, or to predict whether a monopoly would have ever delivered cell phones. (Success has a thousand fathers, and monopoly is generally accepted to defer innovation) I think this falls into the category of suspicious counterfactuals. Could you revise this to require less speculation? –  Mark C. Wallace May 1 '13 at 12:18
    
@MarkC.Wallace: I tried to comply with your suggestion by adding two specific points. If you think of more, feel free to edit. –  Felix Goldberg May 1 '13 at 14:41
    
Now it is a book length question!! Wikipedia and there is a Timeline of discoveries has a partial list of answers including optical routers, signaling, lasers, HDTV, optical digital processors and the like. –  Mark C. Wallace May 1 '13 at 16:04
    
I realized I had answered the earlier version of your question (see below). Mark Wallace's suggestion for edits would have made sense if A T& T had divested Bell Labs and the equipment operation and kept the local phone companies. But they actually did the reverse. Instead, you might ask what impact the divestiture of the regional phone companies had on the competitive landscape and supply/demand patterns. But +1 for the question. You were "onto" something, even if it was not what you originally intended. –  Tom Au May 1 '13 at 19:05
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I recommend searching for articles on "baby bells AT&T breakup" on The Economist website. They must obviously have been in favor of a break-up a-priori (competition is good, yadda yadda yadda) , but also did balanced reporting e.g. here. –  Drux May 1 '13 at 22:10

2 Answers 2

Wikipedia and Timeline provide a hint of the many discoveries that Bell Labs was working on during the breakup. A partial list of answers includes optical routers, signaling, lasers, HDTV, optical digital processors and the like.

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The issue that brought about the breakup of A T & T was that it controlled 1) regional telecommunications, 2) long distance telecommunications, and 3) telecom equipment (Western Electric, Bell Labs), etc. under one roof. That allowed one company to control "too much" of the whole sector.

Regulators gave A T& T the choice of divesting either the regional telecommunciation companies or the equipment operation (later called A T& T technologies, which included Bell Labs and Wester Union), so that the equipment company would have to compete for equipment orders, instead of having a "captive" market. Somewhat to many peoples' surprise, A T &T elected to retain the equipment operation and divest the regional bell operating companies (RBOCs). Divesting the equipment operation would have been much easier.

The divestiture of the RBOCs created a level playing field by preventing A T &T from selling inferior long distance and satellite services by "packaging" them with local phone services. And it forced the downsized A T&T to charge "real" prices for these services, that allowed the growth of MCI (later MCI/Worldcom), Quest, and Sprint in long distance, as well as a number of smaller satellite broadcasting companies. Taken together, these companies brought about the popularization of the Internet, 3 and 4G telecom, and widespread distribution of media a decade or two later. It would not have happened as quickly if A T &T had been able to retain its stranglehold on the whole sector to the detriment of "competition."

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I'm not sure you have conclusively shown that the breakup was related to technical innovation (prices for long distance dropping is more of an open and shut case, but that didn't by itself cause innovation) –  DVK May 2 '13 at 14:14
    
@DVK: The relevant Latin expression is Qui bono? Who benefits. Regulators initially hoped to increase competition by making equipment more available to competitors. But when A T& T protested, regulators "got there a different way" by taking away the company's chance to bundle costly and inferior long distance services with local service. It's like a child being told that he will be sent to bed without dinner as punishment, and the child's wishe to be spanked instead is granted. –  Tom Au May 2 '13 at 14:44
    
While true, I don't see how this in any way, shape or form prove or even show the causation between the breakup and the innovations. –  DVK May 2 '13 at 15:14

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