Originally published: November 9, 2010
Last updated: November 9, 2010 - 3:34pm
Theodore Vail is not a familiar figure to most Americans, but his life's work is. Vail built the AT&T monopoly, the greatest and longest-lasting communications monopoly in American history.
AT&T ruled the American telephone for nearly seven decades in a close partnership with the federal government. For long periods, it was the largest corporation in the world. The AT&T model centralized all authority in a single monopolist overseen by the government, and (in theory) endowed the corporation with duties to the public beyond that expected of a normal business. In Vail's design of AT&T, we see patterns that would deeply influence every American firm that has sold information or communications services, from the radio and broadcast networks through today's powerful Internet firms.
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