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The long history of communications regulation

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless), under 5G

This guest blog has been contributed by spectrum expert, Simon Pike who will be speaking at our upcoming joint Small Cells & Radio Technologies SIG event on the 21 October 2019.

EVENT: Technology enablers for 5G spectrum sharing

The regulation of communications services is a perennial subject of discussion, with frequent reporting in the media of topics such as roaming charges, full national coverage and infrastructure from foreign vendors. This has been the case for a very long time …

In 1660, the English Parliament of Charles II passed an Act to establish on General Letter Office in the City of London, and to appoint a Post Master General to manage the sending and delivering of all letters and paquets whatsoever, to and from all parts and places of England, Scotland and Ireland and other his Majestyes Dominions, and to and from all Kingdomes and Countryes beyond the Seas. Here are some extracts from the Act:

Quality of Service

And whereas upon the arrivall of shipps from parts beyond the seas into severall sorts within His Majesties Dominions, many letters directed to severall merchants and others have beene detained long to the great damage of the merchants in want of that speedy advice and intelligence which they might have had if the same had beene forthwith dispatched by the setled posts. And sometimes such Letters have beene delivered by the masters or passengers of such shipps to ignorant and loose hands that understand not the way and meanes of speedy conveyance and delivery of letters whereby great prejudice hath accrued to the affaires of merchants …

Cyber Security

… as well by the miscarriage of many letters soe brought as oftentimes by the opening of the same to the discovery of the correspondencies and secrets of the merchant.

Be it further enacted that all letters and pacquets that, by any master of any shipp or vessell or any of his company or any passengers therein shall or may be brought to any port towne within His Majestyes Dominions, then such Letters bee forthwith delivered unto the deputy or deputyes onely of the said Post Master Generall to be sent post unto the said Generall Post Office.

National coverage

And be it further enacted that such Post Master Generall shall prepare & provide horses and furniture to lett to hire unto all through posts and persons rideing in post, to and from all and every places of England Scotland and Ireland where any post rodes are, or shall be setled and established.

Foreign Infrastructure

Provided alwayes that if the pacquet or mail shall be carryed out of England into any part beyond the seas in any ship or vessell which is not of English built and navigated with English seamen, that in every such case the said Post Master Generall shall forfeite the summe of one hundred Pounds sterling.

Fixed roaming charges

And for all and every the letters pacquets and parcells of outwards that shall be carried or conveyed to or from any of His Majestyes said dominions to or from any other parts or places beyond the Seas, according to the severall and respective rates that now are and have beene taken for letters pacquets and parcells soe conveyed …

The Act defines prices for more than fifty destinations in Western Europe and four destinations in the Ottoman empire. Here are some examples (there were twelve pence in one shilling, and a shilling in 1660 is roughly equivalent to £5 today in purchasing power).







Venice Geneva Legorne Rome Naples Messina and all other parts of Italy by way of Venice franct pro Mantua

Single (sheet)












Marcelia Smerna Constantinople Aleppo and all parts of Turky, port paid to Marcelia














The domestic price for one sheet was two pence for up to four score (80) miles, three pence for more than four score miles, and six pence from England to Dublin.

Regulated prices for the transport network

And it shall and may be lawfull to and for such Post Master Generall and his deputy and deputyes to aske demand take and receive of every person that he or they shall furnish and provide with horses furniture and guide to ride post in any of the post roads as aforesaid three pence of English money for each Horses hire or postage for every English mile and foure pence for the guide for every stage.

High reliability & low latency

Provided alwayes that if any post master of any respective place doth not or cannot furnish any person or persons rideing in post with sufficient horses within the space of one halfe houre after demand, that then such person or persons are hereby left at liberty to provide themselves as conveniently they can. And the persons who shall furnish such horses shall not therefore be lyable to any penaltyes or forfeitures contained in this Act.

Compliance with licence obligations

Provided alsoe and be it enacted that noe person or persons shall be capeable of having, useing or exercising the office of Post Master Generall or any other imployment relating to the said office unlesse he or they shall first take the oathes of alleigiance and supremacy before any two Justices of the Peace.

Simon Pike Act 1660 communications regulations

For the full text of the Act, see: This is, in fact, the second English Act to establish a General Letter Office. The first, dating from 1657, was “enacted by his Highness the Lord Protector and the Parliament”.

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