The TSA has its origins in the Telegraph Electrical Society, formed in Melbourne in 1874, twenty years after the installation of Australia's first electrical telegraph line (Melbourne to Williamstown, 1854), and two years after the completion of the Overland Telegraph Line caught the national imagination. The purpose of the Society was 'The promotion of the knowledge of electricity, especially as connected with telegraphy'.[Sander] The Society regularly published a booklet called Transactions to record its activities. [Sander][Credlin]
When the colonies' telegraph and telephony services were nationalized, with the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, many of the Society's members became employees of the newly formed Australian Postmaster General's Department. The Society was reconstituted on 11 November 1908 as the Postal Electrical Society of Victoria, which contained both Telephone and Telegraph Branches.[Credlin] The inaugural President, Mr Jenvey, made it clear that the objectives of the Society were broad: "The field of study is not only electrical. It is too often thought that knowledge of electricity and electrical laws is sufficient to fit an officer of this branch for his duties - but that is not the case - that fact is becoming more widely recognized in all electrical engineering concerns, whether private or Governmental. Before a person can deal satisfactorily with, and solve electrical engineering problems, whether telegraph or telephone, he must be fortified with sound general knowledge. Knowledge of electrical laws itself is not sufficient, he must have a knowledge of things which are taught in schools and universities - without that knowledge he will always find himself deficient."[Credlin]
That broad perspective has been maintained by the Society in its different incarnations up to the present.
One of the early lecturers at Society meetings was the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. Dr Bell visited Melbourne in 1910 and inspected Australia's first automated central telephone exchange during its installation. He honoured the Society at a function held in the Exchange on 17 August 1910 prior to its formal opening.[Credlin]
In the inter-War period, there also existed telecommunications lecture societies in New South Wales and South Australia. The technical papers delivered before each Society were printed and distributed to members, and a limited number forwarded to other States.[Sander] The Postal Electrical Society of Victoria initiated action to have the various papers published in a new periodical - the Telecommunication Journal of Australia (TJA) which first appeared in 1935, and which has been published at least twice-yearly ever since, even during the World War 2 years 1939-45.
The Postal Electrical Society of Victoria was reconstituted by the Postmaster-General's Department (PMG) in 1959 as the Telecommunication Society of Australia (TSA), an unincorporated organization, operating as a subsidiary controlled by the PMG. All twelve members of the TSA's Council of Control were constitutionally required to be officers of the Central Administration of the Australian Post Office, the business name adopted by the PMG.[Credlin] The position of Editor-in-Chief of TJA, created in 1960, was then filled by a succession of engineers, all (until 1994) employees of the Australian Post Office (APO) and its successors Telecom Australia and Telstra.[Turnbull]
In 1991, following the introduction of competition in the Australian telecommunications market, the links between the Society and the former monopoly Telstra were formally severed, so the TSA could serve the whole industry. (Telstra however remained the principal sponsor of the TSA until 2005.) The Society was incorporated as the Telecommunication Society of Australia Ltd, a not-for-profit independent company in 1993, chaired by a former Telstra executive, Professor Peter Gerrand, who became the Society's longest serving Chairman (1993–2003) and Editor-in-Chief of TJA (1994–present). The TSA's inaugural Chief Executive Officer was Blair Feenaghty (1994–2005).
In 2007 TSA was absorbed into the Australian Computer Society as its Telecommunications Special Interest Group (SIG), known as the ACS-TSA under the ACS Telecommunications Board.[Gerrand] The transfer of membership and assets (including TJA) to the ACS was achieved through the leadership of Professor Reg Coutts, Chair TSA Ltd (2005-2007) and inaugural Chair of the ACS Telecommunications Board, directed the ACS-TSA.
Throughout its long history, the Society has kept its membership informed on the latest major developments in telecommunications by means of journals, newsletters, monthly lectures and occasional monographs. It has also provided a neutral meeting place for the industry, where employees of competing organizations can meet to discuss topics of common interest across the industry.
The TSA has always maintained a broad view of the field of 'telecommunications', which has allowed the Society to evolve with the industry it serves. From the 1930s, the monopoly PMG was given responsibility for providing the radio distribution network for Australia's first national public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC); and from 1956 responsibility for supplying the TV distribution network for the first national public television channel, also produced by the ABC. With the convergence of digital telecommunications technology with that of the computing industry in the 1980s, and the further convergence via the Internet of telecommunications with digital broadcasting and Internet communication services, the membership of the TSA has become increasingly multi-disciplinary.[Gerrand]
Today, the TSA offers monthly lectures, special industry networking events, an informative website and the quarterly Telecommunications Journal of Australia (TJA) – the industry's journal of record. In 2010 TJA celebrated its 75th Anniversary, having published at least two issues per year every year since June 1935 – including the WW2 years 1939-45.
Keynote Industry events are usually held twice a year, in the form of the Charles Todd Oration, in Sydney, and the TSA Innovation Address, in Melbourne. In place of the 2010 Innovation Address, an industry dinner was held in Melbourne on 2 August to celebrate the 75th anniversary of TJA. The 2010 Charles Todd Oration was delivered in Sydney on 18 August by Mike Quigley, the CEO of NBN Co, responsible for the rollout of the Australian National Broadband Network.The 2011 Charles Todd Oration was delivered by David Thodey, CEO of Telstra and the 2012 Oration was delivered by Chris Chapman, Chairman of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
In 2011 the TSA held NBN Policy Forums in Melbourne and Sydney on June 28 and 30 respectively, based upon policy gaps for the National Broadband Network identified in eleven articles published in the May 2011 issue of TJA. The outcomes of these forums were published in the August 2011 issue of TJA.