Emergence of Telegraph

Basic forms of electronic telecommunication emerged in the 19th century. The early forms of telecommunication comprised wireless signals used in tandem with telegrams. Telephones and wireless emerged at the end of the 19th century. The wireless signal sent by code became a means of communication

The earliest telecommunication signals were used by the military. In the mid 19th century railway companies developed telegraph signals along certain railway lines to assist signaling and time keeping. Electronic telegraphs developed long railway lines. Initially, private companies operated the services.

Early legislation provided crude regulation of the private companies. Early telegraph companies were given powers to lay electric telegraphs lines. Ireland’s first commercial telegraph was established by the English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company in 1851, linking Galway and Dublin along railway lines. The following year a submarine link was built, connecting Dublin to the English network at Holyhead, Wales.

Taken over by Post Office

In 1868, the Post Office was authorized to acquire the undertakings of the telecommunication companies compulsorily throughout Great Britain and Ireland. The various companies were purchased on the basis of multiples of their profit. The monopoly created under the Telegraph Acts 1868 and 1869 remained the basis of the telecommunication monopoly in the State until the early years of the 21st century.

When the telephone was invented in 1876, the Post Office successfully litigated on the basis that it came within the telegraph monopoly. The telephone companies which had obtained the telephone patents were nonetheless licensed by the State. The Post Office ran a telephone exchange network in parallel and in competition.

In the 1890s, the government took control of the trunk wire communications leaving the telephone exchange businesses in particular areas in the hands of private companies. At the end of the 19th century, local authorities were empowered to provide public telephone systems. However, a licence was required from the Post Office.


Patents for the telephone was granted to Alexander Bell in 1876 and Edison in 1877. A number of companies quickly formed to exploit the invention.  In 1880, in the case of AG v Edison Telephone Company of London, it was determined that the private telephone companies breached the statutory monopoly for the Postmaster General of transmitting telegrams.  Accordingly, a licence was required from the Postmaster General.

The telephone services continued to be in the hands of private operators.  However, the National Telephone Company absorbed most of the other companies.  A relatively small-scale service was operated by the Postmaster General. Licences were issued to a number of municipal corporations in the United Kingdom to provide services.I

The telecommunication service in the United Kingdom compared unfavourably with that in Continental Europe and the United States at the end of the 19th century. A private company, National Telephone Company had a virtual monopoly and was criticized for failing to provide services, particularly in more rural and remote areas.

1908 legislation granted powers to the Post Office to increase and develop telecommunication infrastructure. The licence of the National Telephone Company expired in 1911 and was taken over by the (UK) State in 1911 under the Telephone Transfer Act. The postal service took over the employees, infrastructure, and assets of the company.

By the early years of the 20th century, the National Telephone Company operated 85 telephone exchanges in Ireland, while 33 were operated by the Post Office. On 1st January 1912, a single national telephone system came into effect in Great Britain and Ireland. In the years before independence, the compulsory acquisition powers of the telecommunication company were strengthened.

Irish Free State

Upon the creation of the Irish Free State, the responsibilities of the Postmaster General’s Department in Ireland were transferred to the Department of Post and Telegraphs, a newly established department under the Minister and Secretaries Act. It took over the administration and business of the postal, telegraph and telephone services.

The early legislation passed in the Free State was designed to provide capital to develop the telephone system. Over a dozen Acts were passed increasing the capital sum authorized.

The Telegraph Act 1885 allowed the Treasury to make regulations in relation to the telecommunications business. The Post and Telecommunication Services Act 1983 empowers the Telecommunication Company to make schemes of charges and conditions. The matter is now subject to the overriding communications regulation legislation.

The telecommunication scheme set out the terms and conditions of use of the service. Each subscriber entered an agreement for the provision of services in accordance with the scheme.  The charges for telephone calls were fixed under the legislation.

The Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951 makes it an offence for a person to send or offensive,  obscene or menacing characters or messages or messages known to be false.

Bord Telecom

The Postal and Telecommunication Services Act 1983 incorporated An Post and Bord Telecom as companies. The company’s borrowings were guaranteed by the State.

Under section 90 of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 (No. 24 of 1983) Telecom Eireann was empowered to make schemes relating to tariffs terms and conditions of service.

The Telecommunications Schemes were made by annual statutory instrument. They were updated and consolidated periodically.  The Telecommunications Scheme   provided for charges and other terms and conditions. Certain of the terms and conditions were incorporated in the contract with each consumer customer dealing with such matters as interruption and termination of service suspension of service force majeure conditions et cetera.

Competition in Telephony

Competition for residential customers was opened in December 1998. The first  to enter the market was Esat Telecom followed by Ocean a joint venture between the ESB and British Telecom and a TV operator. CustBroadband

Higher speed wireless data connections facilitating the internet was rolled out across the country. Voice over the internet port technology began to challenge mobile and fixed-line operators.

Eircom was one the largest broadband internet provider. Eircom exchanges delivered broadband within three miles of its exchange. However, It did not invest in fiber optics.omers paid a bill for usage and a bill to Telecom for line rental.

Bord Telecom became Telecom Éireann and was floated on the stock exchange at the end of 1990s. It is now the earliest and to date only, substantial flotation of a pre-existing State asset.

Telecom Eireann upon establishment embarked on a major upgrade of the telecommunication system. Digital technology replaced analogue systems at national and major switching centres. Conversion to digital happened gradually through the late 1980s and early 1990s. The system was 100 % digital by the  mid-1990.

Telecom Éireann launched Eircell as its mobile phone operation company in 1986. It deployed a national mobile telephone network using first-generation mobile technology.

Eircell launched its digital network on GSM technology in 1993. .In 1997, Telecom Éireann established its internet service provider (ISP) ultimately known as eircom.net.


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