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1908-2008: Wiring Denver’s Democratic National Conventions Then and Now


Qwest and the Telecommunications History Group Look Back at the 1908 DNC as Denver Gears Up for the Most Digitally-Connected Political Convention in History One Hundred Years Later

With the centennial of the first convention in Denver as the backdrop, Qwest Communications, the Official Telecommunications Provider of the event, teamed up with the Telecommunications History Group to compare the 1908 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions (DNC).

“The Qwest network will facilitate an unprecedented digital experience for the delegates and the media at this year’s convention. Such technology was unheard of in 1908, which only highlights the need to stay connected with the people and the events that matter most in our lives,” said Qwest’s president in Colorado, Chuck Ward.

From a technology perspective, the upcoming convention in the Mile High City bears little resemblance to the 1908 convention – when only 12 special telephone lines were installed to accommodate the event and enable national news bulletins.

By contrast, this year’s convention sites – the Pepsi Center and INVESCO Field at Mile High – are expected to have unparalleled digital connectivity, with 6,000 voice and data lines carrying real-time news, videos, blogs, phone calls, e-mail and other digital data to a global audience.

“As you would expect, times have changed in the communications world since the last convention in Denver,” said Herb Hackenburg, a founding member of the Telecommunications History Group. “The level of data and voice connectivity provided by Qwest will enable the world to watch, listen and read about the DNC as it happens and that’s exciting!”

In 1908, when Denver was tapped to host the DNC, the Colorado Telephone Company relied on its new state-of-the-art technology to keep the public informed about the convention proceedings within minutes of when they happened.

Using a PBX (private branch exchange) telephone system, six special service telephones, six telephone booths, six specially trained telephone operators, two long distance lines, telegraphs and Morse code, the phone company was able to transmit news bulletins to pre-selected customers like local newspaper editors and political leaders from the 1908 convention.

Pages at the convention were trained to recognize delegates and distinguished guests by sight. When delegates and guests received calls, the attendants would immediately find them on the floor and escort them to the phones.

Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan didn’t even attend the convention in 1908. Using a megaphone rigged with a telephone transmitter so that the megaphone would work “in reverse”, Bryan listened to the crowd signal its approval of his nomination from his home library in Lincoln, Nebraska, via a special long-distance telephone connection to the convention floor. *

Today, it is Qwest that will facilitate much of the information flow that will keep the eyes of the world on Denver from August 25th-28th. Qwest’s fiber-optic network for the 2008 DNC has an aggregate data capacity of 50 billion bits per second, which could transmit an HD movie in two seconds or the entire collection of print holdings at the Library of Congress in less than one hour.

Qwest has implemented infrastructure upgrades that required about 3,344 miles of single strands of fiber and 140 miles of single strands of copper and coaxial cable, installed video equipment with capacity to handle 130 simultaneous video feeds at both the Pepsi Center and INVESCO Field at Mile High, and added approximately 2,600 additional data lines and 3,400 voice grade circuits to serve both venues.

During next week’s convention, Qwest’s network will be used to transmit the Democratic presidential nomination and convention proceedings for the world to watch in real-time at home or on the go, from the opening gavel to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at INVESCO Field on Thursday, August 28th.


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