Editorial Note

Three separate but related world telecommunication conferences were held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, from May 16 to October 2, 1947. Of the three conferences, only one was a plenipotentiary conference, the International Telecommunication Conference which met July 2–October 2 and which revised the international telecommunication convention signed at Madrid in 1932. The International Radio Conference, May 16–October 2, and the International High Frequency Broadcasting Conference, August 16–September 27, were administrative conferences, concerned with regulatory or engineering matters; in the event the latter, because of the pressure of time, was limited to the role of a preparatory conference to make ready for a later conference on high frequency broadcasting which would meet at Mexico City in 1948.

The three Atlantic City conferences met under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an international organization based on the 1932 Madrid Convention but having a prior existence in other organizational forms dating back to 1865. For the United States, the raison d’être for the conference was “to bring order out of the chaos” that existed in the frequency spectrum in 1947 due to the unprecedented increase in the number of high frequency broadcast transmitters during the years of World War II; to provide a continuing body for the organization of administrative conferences and the formulation and administration of regulations, plans, and boards necessary to coordinate all the services (telegraph, telephone, radio) of international telecommunication; and to make world-wide frequency assignments based on modern engineering practices. In the general context of policies promoting freedom of information, the United States objective was to reduce disorder in the frequency spectrum through new regulations and thereby to remove barriers to the free flow of high frequency broadcasting.

Generally, these United States objectives were achieved at the Atlantic City conferences, except for the development of a new international frequency list which was postponed to the 1948 conference. The results, providing for a comprehensive reorganization of the structure and functions of the International Telecommunication [Page 1042] Union (including an association with the United Nations as a specialized agency) and a far-reaching revision of radio regulations and allocation of frequency bands, were embodied in two basic documents signed on October 2: (a) the International Telecommunication Convention and (b) Radio Regulations annexed to the International Telecommunication Convention; for the texts, see 63 Stat (pt. 2) 1399 (the Convention proper with additional protocols) and Ibid., 1581 (the Radio Regulations with frequency allocation tables and appendices), or Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1.901. These were to take effect on January 1, 1949, regardless of the number of ratifications.

Papers concerning the Atlantic City conferences are found in Department of State central decimal file 574–WTC. The files of the United States delegations to the conferences are divided between Department of State Lot File 59–D594 (Boxes 461 and 462) and Department of State Lot File 59–D544 (Boxes 8484–8488); documentation oh related telecommunication matters before and after 1947 is also found in Lot 59–D544, Boxes 8489–8494.

For a full account of the Atlantic City conferences, see International Telecommunication Conferences, Atlantic City, N.J., May-October 1947, Department of State publication 3177 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1948). For a short account by Mr. Francis Colt de Wolf, Chief, Telecommunications Division, Department of State, see Department of State Bulletin, November 30, 1947, pp. 1033–1034, 1040–1041. For the composition of the United States delegations’ to the three conferences, see Department of State, Participation of the United States Government in International Conferences, July 1, 1946–june 30, 1947 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1948), pages 184–185 (the international Radio Conference) and Ibid., July 1, 1947–June 30, 1948 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949), pages 148–149 and 153–154 (the International Telecommunication Conference and the International High Frequency Broadcasting Conference, respectively). A useful survey of the history of the international law of telecommunications is found in Marjorie M. Whiteman, Digest of International Law (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1968), volume 9, pages 690 ff.