Introduction to telecomm (COMN 3510)


Considerations in Telecommunications

COMN 3510 — Fall  2018 — v.1.0

  • Instructor: David Ellis, PhD
  • jdae (at) yorku (dot) ca (emails answered during bus hrs only)
  • Student 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 has controversial effects on the quality and pricing of telecomm services like broadband, as well as on aspects of the social contract like the right to privacy. In recent years, however, the dominance of network operators has been challenged by the growing influence of platform providers like Google and Facebook — a development that is reshaping the nature of telecommunications in North America.

While not a formal prerequisite, this course should provide useful preparation for COMN 3511 and 4520, both of which examine Internet-related technologies and social issues in more detail.

Course goals 

By taking this course, you will:

  • Be amazed at what you accomplish after ditching your phone for 3  hours
  • Learn how the networks you live on actually work
  • Keep up with current events that affect your digital life
  • Take your online security and privacy a lot more seriously
  • Become a smarter tech consumer
  • Get detailed feedback on your work, including your writing

Downloads (pdf’s)

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 frequently.



Weekly Outline & Reading Schedule

Wed Sept 5 (#1) — What is telecommunications?

Course goals and structure, grading scheme, student responsibilities

Wed Sept 12 (#2) — Telecommunications is not broadcasting

Readings (R1): 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 Sept 19 (#3) — Telecommunications is platforms 

Readings (R2): i) Pew Research Center (Mar 2018), “Social Media in 2018” (pdf). — ii) Pew (Aug 2018), “How Teens and Parents Navigate Screen Time and Distractions” (pdf

Wed Sept 26 (#4) — Telecommunications is a regulated industry

Readings (R3): CRTC (May 2011), Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-291, Obligation to serve and other matters (pdf). — CRTC (Dec 2016), Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-496, Modern telecommunications services: The path forward for Canada’s digital economy (pdf)


Wed Oct 3 (#5) — Telecommunications is the Internet: history

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

>> Wed Oct 10 — Fall Reading Week — No Class <<

Wed Oct 17 (#6) — Telecommunications is Internet technology (1/2)

Reading (R5a): Severance videos on TCP/IP (Dropbox)

Wed Oct 24 (#7) — Telecommunications is Internet technology (2/2)

Reading (R5b): Severance videos on TCP/IP, cont’d (Dropbox)

Wed Oct 31 (#8) — Telecommunications is highly concentrated 

Reading (R6): CMCRP (Nov 2017), Media & Internet Concentration, 1984-2016 (pdf)

Wed Nov 8 (#9)  Telecommunications is platform regulation (1/2)

Readings (R7):  Harold Feld, VP, Public Knowledge (July 2018), “Part I: Why Platform Regulation Is Both Necessary and Hard.” — Harold Feld (July 2018), “Part II: Defining ‘Digital Platform’

Wed Nov 15 (#10)  Telecommunications is platform regulation (2/2)

Readings (R8): TBA

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

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