A narrative analysis of Australian telecommunications policy development with particular reference to the universal service obligation

  • Michael J. Bourk

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis analyses narratives associated with the development of public policy in telecommunications from the advent of telegraphy to Australia in 1854 to the end of 2000,with particular emphasis on concepts of universal service. The history of public policy development in telecommunications universal service obligations is analysed to gain an understanding of how different narratives are used to frame policy within particular material contexts. The study demonstrates that narratives in telecommunication development reflect national public policy agendas. In addition the thesis analyses how policy narratives are used to underwrite and legitimise assumptions, values and statements that influence the agendas and expectations of diverse social actors and interpretive communities. Furthermore, the thesis examines the interaction between policy narratives and the barriers and opportunities created by dynamic material environments such as economic, legislative and technological arenas. The study analyses five narratives that influence telecommunication policy and the agendas and expectations of diverse social actors and interpretive communities. National development, technocratic, rights, competition and charity narratives are used to frame different approaches to telecommunication policy, with particular reference to universal service. The study demonstrates how national development and competition narratives compete to dominate policy. Furthermore, diverse technocratic narratives provide scientific reinforcement to underwrite and legitimise the dominant narrative as well as discredit alternative perspectives. In addition, social rights and charity narratives respectively provide moral support to underwrite and legitimise national development and competition policy narratives. A key focus of this study is a narrative analysis of more than a thousand submissions to an independent inquiry in 2000 into telecommunication service levels with particular reference to universal service. The Telecommunications Service Inquiry was a forum that provided examples of the narratives analysed in this study from a cross-section of the Australian community. Submissions came from diverse social actors and institutions that included governments and state bodies, the telecommunication industry, unions, the farming industry, other business groups, community groups and individuals. The research demonstrates that changes in material environments and social expectations of universal service produce tensions within dominant narratives that require greater support from secondary narratives to provide scientific and moral legitimacy. Furthermore the research indicates that, in part, universal service policy functions to stabilise and legitimise the dominant policy narrative. However, the diverse social expectations associated with universal service produce continuing tensions within the dominant narrative that keep the policy in a state of flux. Consequently, government and industry policy makers find telecommunications policy a problematic area to reconcile with expectations of universal service.
Date of Award2003
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorPeter Putnis (Supervisor) & Graeme Osborne (Supervisor)

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