The development of telegraphy in the early 19th century brought about the need for standardization and cooperation across national borders. As soon as telegrams began to be exchanged between countries, agreements were needed to define the types of equipment and coding that should be used as well as the rates (tariffs) that should be charged. Between 1849 and 1865, a series of bilateral and regional agreements were established between and among the states of Western Europe.
By 1865, the need was felt to replace all of these agreements by a comprehensive multilateral agreement. In that year, the French government invited the European states to an International Telegraph Conference in Paris. The conference established the International Telegraph Union and drew up the International Telegraph Convention – an intergovernmental treaty that established the basic principles for international telegraphy. Annexed to, and supplementing, the Convention were the Regulations for International Service (also known as the Telegraph Regulations). The Regulations covered matters of administrative detail, such as the interworking of equipment, operating procedures and settlement of accounts.
Among the basic norms that were adopted were the use of the Morse code as the international telegraph alphabet, the protection of the secrecy of correspondence, and the right of everybody to use the international telegraphy. The contracting parties also reserved the right to stop any transmission that they considered dangerous for state security, or in violation of national laws, public order or morals.
Uniform charges (tariffs) for international telegram exchanges were established. For the first time, all terminal and transit charges were coded and published in a table annexed to the Convention.
The 1865 Conference also stipulated that in order to keep up with technical and administrative progress, the Convention should be periodically revised by international conferences held in the capitals of the contracting parties. In addition, it provided that countries which were not signatory to the Convention could subsequently adhere to it through notification to the French Government.
The International Telegraph Convention was signed by 20 States on 17 May 1865.