TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: History of Phone Billing

Re: History of Phone Billing
30 Aug 2005 07:19:28 -0700

Michael Hyman wrote:

> I am looking for information on pre-computer and early computer
> toll/call billing systems.
> Also, information on early call detail reporting/recording systems.

Remember that before computers there were IBM punched-card tabulating
machines (widely available and sophisticated by the mid-1930s and
perfect for this kind of work) and these were extensively used to
prepare telephone bills. The tab machines remained in use to
supplement electronic computers well into the 1970s (a punched card
was included with the bill that you returned with your payment).
Before tab machines there were accounting machines (kind of a
supersized cash register); so in larger areas bills were automated for
years. I presume in small areas they either used the facilities of
large cities or did bills by hand.

Keep in mind that before the 1960s toll calls were expensive and
people made a lot fewer of them. Making a toll call was serious
business back then. So, undoubtedly many subscribers had no toll
charges at all and the phone bill was much simpler. I would not want
to be a clerk doing nothing but hand-figuring every telephone bill all
day long, but back in the 1950s and earlier a great many people were
employed doing just that in all kinds of industries.

In cities, message units were used to tally up local and suburban
calls. There was a meter attached to each line which would increment
for calls and time of call. The meters were photographed and the
values processed and a single amount transferred to the bill. The use
of message units instead of itemized billing saved considerable

In Los Angeles, they used itemized billing and in the 1940s they
developed ANI (auto number ID) and a crude AMA (auto message
accounting). Tapes were printed of call activity.

In the 1950s they developed sophisticated AMA that prepared punched
tapes which could be processed by machine.

Surprisingly, there was less standardization in bill preparation
across the Bell System than I would expect. Bills in different places
had different formats in the 1960s. Different places used different
kinds of computers -- some Univac, some IBM. Although Bell Labs
developed many computer systems for the business office, it appeared
billing software was programmed independently. Some billing formats
may have been mandated by individual state PUCs so variation had to be
allowed for that.

By the way, very recently the New York Times had a story on complex
phone bills and ridiculous charges they add in.

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