Conceptualizing Universal Service: Definitions, Context, Social Process, and Politics
Official universal service policies, as reflected in laws, regulatory statutes, and budgetary appropriations are, most immediately, products of government. In this sense, it is appropriate to say they are, at any moment in time, products of conscious attempts to create mechanisms to promote the attainment of those policy goals that held sway when they were created. From this perspective, universal service policies are developed. However, the goals of policy emerge from the interplay of social, economic, and technological forces that influence and are influenced by government. These forces, and the directions in which they push policy, change over time and vary with circumstances that differ among nations. From this perspective it is appropriate to say that universal service policies evolve as manifestations of underlying forces more basic than government. In the case of universal service in the United States, this evolution is reflected in repeated attempts to come up with new definitions for universal service to respond to ever-advancing technological capabilities and a sense of social entitlement that advances with them.