Somewhere between two-cans-and-a-string and Ma Bell lies the barbed wire fence telephone networks used by ranchers in the early 20th century. From CF Eckhardt's short history of these "rural telephone systems" at TexasHillCountry.com :
Across much of the west, to the west of old US 81 (present I-35) in Texas--and not a small part of it east of that demarcation--there was already a network of wire covering most of the country, in the form of barbed-wire fences. Some unknown genius discovered that if you hooked two Sears or Monkey Ward telephone sets to the top wire on a barbed-wire fence, you could talk between the telephones as easily as between two "town" telephones connected by slick wire through an operator's switchboard. A rural telephone system that had no operators, no bills--and no long-distance charges--was born.
Most ranch perimeter fences joined at corners, and in most cases the top wires touched each other or were even interwoven for strength. Where it became necessary for a telephone system to cross a road, all that was required was two posts about 15 feet long, buried about 3 feet into the ground for stability, and enough wire to go from one top fence wire up to the top of the post, across the road, and down the other post to the top fence wire on the other side.
"Before Maw Bell - Rural Telephone Systems In The West
More at BLDGBLOG: "Fence Phone"
The UK Labour party's conference is underway in Liverpool, and party bigwigs are presenting their proposals for reinvigorating Labour after its crushing defeat in the last election. The stupidest of these proposals to date will be presented today, when Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, will propose a licensing scheme for journalists through a professional body that will have the power to forbid people who breach its code of conduct from doing journalism in the future.
Given that "journalism" presently encompasses "publishing accounts of things you've seen using the Internet" and "taking pictures of stuff and tweeting them" and "blogging" and "commenting on news stories," this proposal is even more insane than the tradition "journalist licenses" practiced in totalitarian nations.
I'm all for hanging up Murdoch and his phone hackers by their thumbs, but you don't need to license journalists to get that done: all you need to do is prosecute them under existing criminal statutes. In other words, the only "journalism code of conduct" the UK needs to avert another phone hacking scandal is "don't break the law." Of course, it would help if government didn't court favour with the likes of Murdoch, as was the case under Labour (and is the case with today's Tories).
For a party eager to shed its reputation as sinister, spying authoritarians, Labour's really got its head up its arse.
Lewis will suggest that newspapers should introduce a system whereby journalists could be struck off a register for malpractice. And he will question David Cameron's reluctance to explain why he made Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, his communications director both in opposition and then in government. He will say: "I believe in second chances too. So, isn't it time you and George Osborne came clean about Andy Coulson?"