TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Foreign Exchange (FX) Lines Still in Use?

Re: Foreign Exchange (FX) Lines Still in Use?

Robert Bonomi (
Wed, 18 May 2005 13:11:55 -0000

In article <>,
<> wrote:

> In another thread Pat mentioned FX lines. As mentioned, these were
> used to save on long distance changes -- customers would make a local
> call to a distant business and the business could call its customers
> for the cost of a local call. This service was not cheap.

> At a resort I visited that had FX lines to a city 75 miles away, the
> switchboard had special heavy cord pairs. Extensions authorized for
> FX had a second jack underneath in which the heavy cord was inserted.
> I heard FX lines used higher voltage thus the heavy cords. I don't
> know what kind of special wiring, if any, was in the telephone sets.

> I would guess WATS and long distance packages has made most FX lines
> obsolete.

The proverbial "yes and no".

I seriously looked at FX for my residence a couple of times within the
last 10 years or so.

The install cost was medium monumental -- hundreds of dollars -- but
the monthly recurring was a pittance -- under $2, as I recall. The
monthly was that cheap because it wasn't very far -- this was for FX
from the next exchange distant. It was a straight per-mile thing, and
the 'worst case' distance was under 5 miles (I had them do numbers to
three nearby COs, I knew the more distant one had the right kind of
gear, wasn't sure what the others had, or how the distance stacked
up.) I was looking at ISDN, and wanted features that were only
available from certain kinds of switch. Unfortunately the one in 'my'
C.O. did -not- support the particular features I wanted. Hence the FX

The poor telco rep -- who had apparently never heard of such a thing
-- had to do a _lot_ of digging, get a special services quote on the
install costs, etc. and then was utterly _amazed_ at how low the
monthly cost was. (I was, too!)

The idea of _ISDN_ FX took a lot of the engineering people somewhat by
surprise, or so I heard, but it _was_ in the tariffs.

> There was toll free before 800 numbers but it was manual
> and a local number added a comfort factor. Obviously today a
> business's 800 number is more convenient for anyone. Further,
> businesses have outward long distance packages so the cost of paying
> for an FX trunk (that only worked in a specific city) couldn't be
> justified.

"In-state" long distance can still be obnoxiously priced. Including
in-state 800 service.

I know of at least one manufacturing company -- located jut outside of
a fairly _small_ town, that maintains a tie-line to the "big city"
circa 50 miles away. They have a national 800 number, too. but
there's enough call-volume to the city to justify the ongoing cost of
the dedicated line. Probably not enough to justify *installing* it,
if they had to do it today, but enough to _keep_ it, since the install
is a 'sunk cost' -- long sunk, probably 50 years, now.

I *really* confused their switchboard one day, when I called "out of
the blue" to request a quote on an order. I was calling from two
states away, and the call came in on their city tie-line, *not* their
800 number. For which there was a _simple_ explanation, I had family
in the city, had called _them_ to get a referral, _and_ the phone
number. Oddly enough, the 800 number was _not_ listed in the local
phone book _there_. Since my then place-of-work had flat-rate
(unmetered) _outgoing_ Long Distance, I didn't bother to check for any
other numbers.

After I got a salesman, that conversation got sort-of funny. He was
reluctant to quote on the order -- stated that he 'almost surely'
would not be competitive, "particularly with the cost of shipping
figured in", with suppliers around Chicago, where I was. As it turned
out, _including_ shipping, his price was almost 1/3 *under* the best
price I got locally. My order was comparatively small for a
manufacturer, low 4 figures. But, as it turned out, they got a *LOT*
of other business from the Chicago area as a result of my purchase --
some _big_ users heard about the pricing I got, and were placing
rail-car size orders. For several years they even had a sales office

> But there is another type of "FX" service that seems not to have gone
> away even though the need has. Philadelphia has a local city zone and
> message units for more distant suburban calls. Many suburban
> businesses had a city phone number for the same reason companies had
> FX lines. Even some suburban homeowners who made a lot of city calls
> had a second line with a city number. AFAIK, many suburban businesses
> still maintain their existing city phone numbers even though today the
> need isn't as much.

> (The following is the economic analyis for those interested).

> The message unit charge has been 7c for at least the last 40 years.
> Now 7c 40 years ago was like 50c today and say a monthly usage of 100
> units comes to some serious money in today's terms (equivalent of $50)
> while today it's $7 which isn't a big deal. Further, Verizon has
> increased local calling area sizes and reduced zone charges. My guess
> is today it probably costs a business far more to maintain the city
> line than whatever they save in message units, and customers don't
> give making a suburban call a second thought today.

> In looking through the yellow pages I noticed many businesses had
> multiple numbers. However, for some time Verizon offers remote
>forwarding -- that is you get a local number but it really isn't a
> line -- it just forwards calls to your actual number. That's more to
> imply a business has a local presence than to save customers toll
> charges.

Remote forwarding is relatively *expensive* -- you pay a 'message units'
charge for every call. Depending on what the monthly is for for the
FX pair, it can be a _lot_ cheaper.

Making a WAG about the monthly for an across-town like that FX,
The break-even point could easily be only 6-8 calls a day.

> I guess that businesses maintaining a distant line never gave it any
> thought and just pay for it month after month.

"Keeping" it can be relatively inexpensive. Putting it in, in the first
place was where the big expense was.

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