TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: We've Come So Far ...

Re: We've Come So Far ...
Wed, 20 Jun 2007 09:50:00 -0700

On Jun 18, 6:24 pm, John Mayson <> wrote:

> I'm still in the 1981 archives. I cannot believe how pompous,
> protective, and bloated the phone company was then. Telling customers
> they couldn't have a business and a residential line in the same
> dwelling. Sarcastic operators and billing employees. Charging
> through the nose for a simple telephone. Calls to the next town over
> being a toll call. Metered local calling. Amazing. I really see why
> AT&T was broken up.

I do not agree with your description for the reasons that follow.

In 1983-84 my employer was involved in significant expansion of our
voice and data communication lines and we worked with Bell and AT&T.
Personally, at home I needed a second phone line and extensive long
distance service. The following is based on my experiences at the

Was the old Bell System perfect? Of course not. But it did offer
excellent service at a fair price--given the state of the art _at that

Let's first look at rates:

A common misunderstanding in discussing telephone history is a failure
to understand the state of technology in 1983. Very simply, think
about what a good PC cost to buy back then and how much horsepower
came with it. Now think about what the same money, adjusted for
inflation, will buy today. See the enormous difference?

Electronics used to be enormously expensive. The Bell System used
massive amounts of it to provide dial tone, switch local calls, and
terminate carrier equipment for long distance calls. Today, the
electronics are cheaper. Also carrier systems for long distance are
much cheaper today, making those calls cheap, too.

Public policy back then dictated that basic telephone service was to
be cheap to encourage wide use. It was and it worked. Premium
services were profitable, again, by public policy. When the company
was divested and prices allowed to be free market, obviously the
subsidized prices went up and the premium prices went down. In
essence, a judge dictated a new public policy, overriding the FCC and
Congress. So yes, you rented extensions (the main phone set was free,
included in the service charge). That rent was deemed a premium
service (of course, they provided all repair service for free).

Per the above, the charge for a single plain telephone (telephone set
and all maintenance included) was dirt cheap, cheaper than today
adjusted for inflation. They did not "charge through the nose" for
simple service, and most people had only that.

Many communities did not meter local calls; that was more of a city
function, and the calling area for cities was enormous, both in terms
of land area and population. One could pay extra and get unmetered
service, many did.

In my dealings with Bell staff, both at work and at home, I found them
to be almost always knowledgeable and helpful. Service qualtiy was
far superior to that of today. When you called repair service,
dialing only 611, you spoke to a real craftsmen at a test desk.

I also professionally dealt with some government agencies in that time
and they had a tough time of it. For their long distance services,
Sprint and MCI sued and demanded to be given a share of the business,
even if they didn't have the service quality or rate schedule to
justify that. They litigated their way in instead of earning it.

Somehow I don't think "competition" was intended to work that way, I
thought the market place was supposed to be allowed to choose for
itself. If the old Bell System was as screwed up as critics claimed,
it would've been easy for Sprint and MCI to come in and take over.
But the truth was that by and large the old Bell System was good and
most customers were quite satisfied.

A big problem after divesture (that continues today) was finger
pointing when problems arose. In the old days, when the Bell System
handled it all, we called them and they were responsible to fix it and
fast. They did. But under the new arrangement, we had the modem
maker pointing fingers to the local carrier who in turn pointed
fingers at the long distance carrier.

Also, the Bell System provided many free consulting services to
businesses to help them plan their telecom needs and make good use of
their phones. This included training for employees, in not only how
to use the equipment (what buttons to push) but also how to best serve
customers and create goodwill.

After divesture that all disappeared. The quality of customer service
over the telephone has declined along with it; nobody knows about the
courtesy tips the Bell System once taught.

As to telecom administration, large companies had to go out and hire
their own administrators and technicians to do what used to be done
for free. Small companies had to hire consultants. So the so-called
savings were in reality a cost shifting. You may have paid less in
your phone bill, but had to pay more in salaries.

Lastly, I want to counter another myth and that is that divesture
forced rates down. The truth is that technology caused rates to drop.
The Bell System was reducing toll rates ever since the telephone was
invented. Well before divesture AT&T implemented deep discounts for
off peak calling and was expanding local calling areas. As technology
improved (see above), customers were given price breaks. Likewise
with technology, the Bell System's 1983 equipment offerings were
pretty good for its day.

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