TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: What's This Telephone Related Item?

Re: What's This Telephone Related Item?
24 Aug 2006 14:02:25 -0700 wrote:

> Businesses very commonly allowed customers and passersby to use
> business phones. Some even had telephones out on the counter or in
> some other convenient locations for customers to use, even though the
> telco tariffs prohibited this. Telephone calls were measured rate
> only in a small part of the United States, and there was little or no
> incremental cost for a customer to use the phone in the vast part of
> the U.S.A. that had flat rate service.

I could understand in a small town where people could come in and use
the phone, especially when it didn't cost anything. But small town
life is different than city life. In the downtown of a large city
there were too many people going by and you needed some controls. If
you allowed anyone to come in and use the phone it would be always
tied up and you'd pay a fortune for it.

While I agree that a "vast part of the U.S. had flat rate service", I
wonder if that's more a function of land size rather than population.
I'm not sure how big a city had to be to get measured services. In
other words, I suspect a much larger part of the population of the
country, esp postwar, was served by measured rate lines.

Smaller towns may have had flat rate service, but they were also party
line oriented. I remember seeing old small town directories and
almost all lines -- business and residential -- had a party line code
on them. That meant sharing the line and the need to keep it open for
other parties to use it.

Another factor in small towns was that the local area -- your free
calling option -- was very small. Anywhere beyond was long distance.
The toll might be only a dime or 15c, but still a toll. In contrast,
the local zone in a city could encompass a million people.

> The reason for prohibiting employees from using employer lines, then
> as now, is primarily because the loss of productivity when the
> employee carries out personal activites when he or she is supposed to
> be doing the employer's business.

That was part of it, but the cost and tie-up of a line was a big part
of it. It was common for companies to have pay phones in hallways of
each floor for employees to use. That meant an employee had to leave
their work station to use the phone which was a longer loss of
worktime than making a call from their desk.

In constant dollars, the cost of a local city call would be about
$1.00 today back in the early 1960s and more before. If many
employees are making calls frequently, that would add up to some
serious money plus tie up lines and trunks which weren't as plentiful
as today. (Many companies had internal private intercoms or PABX
within the workplace.)

In Philadelphia, a separate phone company, Keystone, offered
businesses flat rate lines and was popular for that reason.

As discussed here, the cost of too many phone calls as late as 1971
warranted a plot line in a TV sitcom where the parents put in a
payphone for the gabbing kids. That plot line would be mysterious
today since every kid has his own cell phone with hundreds of hours of
talk time. But back then message units added up to serious money, and
even more so as you go backward. Local phone rates did go up over
time, but not as much as inflation.

In the early days of manual phones, according to the NYT, there was an
moderately enforced 5 minute limit to calls. Somewhere they developed
timed message units to go on the meters. Of course toll calls, even
short distance ones, were timed.

I wonder how long talkers were handled in the older days. I don't know
what the tarffis were. Manual operators in small towns would see it
quickly. In automated offices, if trunking was a problem they'd be
watching and catch it. Trunks were expensive in those days and

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