Universal service from the bottom up: A study of telephone penetration in camden, new jersey

Milton L. Mueller, Jorge Reina Schement

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Ethnographic methods and geographic information systems were used to investigate the extent, causes and consequences of telephone disconnection in Camden, NJ. The results have significant implications for public policies intended to promote universal telephone penetration. Universal service is usually perceived as an issue for rural areas and the elderly, but the most extensive pockets of low telephone penetration are found in inner cities, where the problem is associated with the young, the transient, and ethnic minorities. The basic monthly rate paid by subscribers is usually thought to be the most important factor affecting affordability, but the data suggest that most marginal users are driven off the network by usage-related costs, and more generally by the problem of credit-worthiness. Given prevailing consumption patterns in low-income urban areas, “electronic redlining” seems less of a threat than that poor Americans will, upon exposure to the advanced features of the national information infrastructure (NII), buy services that they cannot afford. Intellectuals and policy analysts value telephone service more than cable television service, but residents of inner cities frequently do not agree with this evaluation. In reformulating universal service policy, we must take account of the growing heterogeneity of telecommunications services, and keep in mind the importance of credit risk as a factor affecting the public’s ability to access and use telecommunication networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-292
Number of pages20
JournalInformation Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Management Information Systems
  • Cultural Studies
  • Information Systems
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Service
  • Telecommunications policy
  • Telephone
  • Telephone penetration
  • Universal service


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