Agenda-Setting: The Universal Service Case


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Virginia Tech


The goal of this dissertation is to test the agenda-setting theories of John Kingdon and Frank Baumgartner/Bryan Jones in terms of applicability. Universal service policy and the 1996 Telecommunications Act serve as the test case. Case study methodology guides the dissertation and employs a variety of methods including the quantitative and qualitative techniques used by John Kingdon and by Frank Baumgartner/Bryan Jones. These methods involve content analysis and the coding of media articles, an analysis of congressional hearings and government reports, and a review of scholarly literature on topics related to the policy-making in general, and telecommunications policy development, in particular. Universal service was selected for legislative action because it was bound up with telecommunications legislation, which required revision. Although some policy-makers preferred a market solution (that is the elimination of subsidized telecommunication services), universal service remained part of the telecommunications policy revision. Reasons include a new issue definition accompanied by a compelling image (information superhighway), the support of rural senators, and presidential leadership. With regard to fundamental differences between the Kingdon and Baumgartner/Jones' theories Kingdon's premise regarding the impact of cyclical events and systematic indicators has more applicability than Baumgartner and Jones' punctuated equilibria model of policy change. In addition, unlike Kingdon's research results, which indicate the media have a minor role in agenda-setting, Baumgartner and Jones' media attention indicators of policy change demonstrated a similar pattern to the universal service media indicators. The influence of interest groups is another point of difference. The universal case as with Baumgartner and Jones' research results that interest groups were major actors in setting the policy agenda. The contribution of this dissertation is to suggest elements of a new integrated model for the study of agenda-setting that incorporates aspects of the work of Kingdon and Baumgartner/Jones.



Telecommunications Policy-Making, Universal Service, Agenda-Setting