Intro to telecommunications (COMN 3510)


Considerations in Telecommunications

COMN 3510 – Fall  2017 – version 1.0 – subject to minor changes

  • Instructor: David Ellis, PhD
  • jdae (at) yorku (dot) ca (emails answered during bus hrs only: M-F, 9-6)
  • Consultations by appointment


Course Description


This course provides an introduction to telecommunications networks and the role they play in our highly connected society. The networks that link our landlines, mobile phones, computers and other devices are expensive to build, difficult to duplicate and in regular use by the great majority of citizens in developed countries. As a result, incumbent network operators like Bell, Vidéotron and Telus hold dominant market positions that allow them to exercise gatekeeping power over customers and competitors. Such power tends to have controversial effects on the quality and pricing of telecom services like broadband, as well as on aspects of the social contract like the right to privacy, especially as reliance on the public Internet continues to grow. Some students will find this course a useful preparation for COMN 3511 and 4520, both of which examine digital and Internet-related platforms in more detail.

Course goals 

By taking this course, you will:

  • Be amazed at what you can accomplish after ditching your phone
  • Learn how the Internet actually works
  • Keep up with current events that affect your life online
  • Take online security and privacy a lot more seriously
  • Become a smarter tech consumer
  • Get detailed feedback on your work

Downloads (PDFs)

Required Readings

They’re called “required readings” because all students are required to read them — and to do so by the stipulated deadline. In order to encourage timely coverage of the core materials, students will keep an official record of their reading and discussion notes, and these will be vetted regularly by the instructor (the course notebook counts for 20% of the final grade). All readings are available free in HTML or as PDF downloads, as indicated in the schedule below. The syllabus, course downloads and other material are posted to this page, and updated regularly.




Weekly Outline

Wed Sept 13 (#1) — What is telecommunications?

Course goals and structure, grading scheme, student responsibilities

Wed Sept 20 (#2) — Telecommunications is social media 

Reading (R1): Wikipedia entry on social media (Intro — 1. Def & Classification — 4. Automation — 6. Data mining — 7. Global usage — 8. Criticisms)

Wed Sept 27 (#3) — Telecommunications is not broadcasting

Reading (R2): DE blog posts – i) It’s 2015: Cancon is the aberration, not VPNs or the Internet (Jan 14, 2015) — ii) Cancon redux: Canada’s TV “system” battles the Internet (Jan 22, 2015) — iii) Dialing for digital dollars: inside the Cancon sausage factory (Dec 1, 2016)

Wed Oct 4 (#4) — Telecommunications is heavily regulated

Reading (R3): CRTC, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-496: Modern telecommunications services – The path forward for Canada’s digital economy (Dec 2016 – pdf)


Wed Oct 11 (#5) — Telecommunications is the Internet: history

Reading (R4): Steve Steinberg, “Netheads vs Bellheads,” Wired (Oct 1996)

Wed Oct 18 (#6) — Telecommunications is the Internet: technology (1/2)

Reading (R5a): Severance videos on TCP/IP

Wed Oct 25 (#7) — Telecommunications is the Internet: technology (2/2)

Reading (R5b): Severance videos on TCP/IP

Wed Nov 1 (#8) — Telecommunications is algorithmic

Reading (R6) – Danah Boyd, It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens, 2014, pp.183-192 (The Politics of Algorithms and Wikipedia as a Site of Knowledge Production: pdf)

Wed Nov 8 (#9) Telecommunications means serious privacy issues (1/2)

Reading (R7): John Lanchester, “You Are the Product,” London Review of Books (Aug 2017)

Wed Nov 15 (#10)  Telecommunications means serious privacy issues (2/2)

Reading (R8): Vicki Boykis, “What should you think about when using Facebook?” GitHub (Feb 2017)

Wed Nov 22 (#11) — Exam review, notebook grading, course evals

Wed Nov 29 (#12) — In-class exam – 3 hrs