Friday, December 29, 2006

Monopolies: Love Them or Hate Them?

Leo Sears reminds us, in his My Word column this morning, of a couple things:

First; The tax on your phone bill that started back during the Spanish- American War has been put to rest. Most of us will be getting a refund.

Second; He reminds those of us still leasing your phones from the phone company, it's time to put that to rest. People have paid thousands over the years leasing phones when it's much cheaper to buy your own, especially nowadays.

Some of you younger folks out there may not realize we didn't always have umpteen phones to chose from and buy just about anywheres, as we do now.

It used to be there was a single phone company nationwide: Bell Telephone. Back then, when you signed up for phone service, Bell would hook you up and provide you with a phone, or phones. I believe there was a small monthly price for renting the phone, but most folks never paid attention to it as it was just part of your phone bill.

There was something kind of neat about that monopoly. Bell Telephone pretty much took care of everything, even if your phone had problems. If your phone stopped working, you'd just call them and they'd send out a service dude and he'd either fix your phone or give you a replacement. Problem solved.

For whatever reason, some people didn't like that system and some of the powers- that- be took Bell Telephone to court with the aim of breaking up their monopoly. The powers- that- be ended up winning and Bell Telephone was forced to break up into a bunch of smaller companies.

Shortly after that, and I forget just what year this was (late 70s, early 80s), we all got notices of the break up and were advised we had to either buy our telephones outright, lease them from the company, or turn them in and buy another one somewhere else. I forget what company had the rights to the phones.

I chose to buy both of mine. Back when Ma Bell, as it was called back then, was broken up, buying your own phone was something that just wasn't done. I had no idea where to get one at the time so I went ahead and bought the two I already had. I still have at least one of those phones today. I believe it's upstairs in the wife's sewing room.

I paid $70 each for the phones, if memory serves me correct, a sizeable amount of money back then. Since I couldn't come up with the money right then, they set up a payment plan and I paid them monthly for I forget how long. But then the phones were mine. Of course, that's small consolation now when you can buy a phone for $10 or $20 at any number of places.

Some people chose to just lease their phones and forgot all about it, which is what Leo Sears reminds us of today. There's no reason to still be leasing those phones when you can buy your own so easily, although one question I have is who is responsible for repairs to the still leased phone, if needed?

Whether it was better just having one company like we did with Ma Bell, or dozens to hundreds of companies like we have today, I don't know. It's certainly nice to have all the choices we have now, but I do know it's more complicated if something goes wrong with your phone nowadays.

I related the story here some time ago about a problem I had with my phones. That stupid automated line diagnosis the phone companies use now said my phone lines were fine and the problem was inside my house. I didn't see how anything could be wrong as nothing had been done to anything inside the house.

I was wondering who I'd call to check out the problem. Luckily, I saw some phone guys working on the lines outside one day. It was a holiday so they were actually looking for work for the overtime. When the guy finished what he was doing he came by and checked my phone lines. Turned out the problem was with their side of the phone line and they were responsible.

As an aside, I asked the guy if anyone else was having problems. He said the next door neighbors were actually having some problem but they were with another phone company so that was the neighbor's problem to figure out. Regardless, my problem was solved.

Thing is, if that was back during Ma Bell's reign, I would of only had to call them and they would have dealt with the problem no matter where it originated- no run around.

So better or worse without Ma Bell? Hard to say since we don't know what it would be like after all these years to still have just one phone company to deal with. We might be loving it or we might be hating it.


At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Mous Anony said...

Like all corporations, they are bad!

We should be using only local phone manufacturers who can create local jobs by putting millworkers, fishermen and college graduates to work in small incubator manufacturing facilities where Humboldt will be known for their environment friendly hemp phones. Then we can stamp the words "Green-Com" on them, make them solar powered and charge $299 per phone. Don't fall for the corporate owned military-industrial-media-government complex rhetoric. All phones are not the same. BUY LOCAL.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our Heartlands Project included in the Palco diversification proposal a plan to create a Palco Communications Company that would centralize all phone and internet services for Palco Plan employees and the whole Humboldt County community if they want to sign up for services cheaper than using outside vendors.

Yes, the old Ma Bell while a terrible monopoly did have the advantage of far better service than the hodge-podge of communications vendor services today. That's why a County centralization of services makes sense.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Fred said...

True. On the other hand, if all services are centralized, you have nowhere else to go if you're unhappy with that service. As I said earlier, there's no way of knowing whether we'd have been better off leaving old Ma Bell alone, at least as far as service goes.

One thing I think is a plus for a diverse service base is innovation. The choices available now are enormous, almost to the point of being a headache. I can't help but wonder if Ma Bell was still around if we'd still have the same selection of eight or ten telephones to choose from.

I remember back in those days going to the Bell Tel office on (where was it?) sixth or seventh Street in Eureka. I forget the cross street but I think it was where that indian tribal place is now.

They tried to make the lobby look like an actual showroom, but there wasn't much to do with it. They had maybe eight phones to chose from that all did the same thing. Sure, maybe different outward appearance, but even then I wondered why they spent time trying to make it look like a showroom.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember that song "The Telephone Man"? I heard it in the bay area in the summer of 1977. It was the epitome of double entendre. It had several verses and one of them was:
"I got it in the kitchen and I got it in the hall
I got it the bedroom and I got it on the wall

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We still have an old rotary phone in the kitchen. It is the only phone that works when the power goes out. It has 2 rings loud and soft. The loud is so loud you can hear it outside.

I don't know what is going on, but I have been agreed with Leo Sears column the last 2 weeks. Wierd.

This string may be boring to 2:08, but I like remembering the days of party lines when I was a kid and you could listen-in to your neighbors phone conversation. Now a days, we have the government listening to our phone conversations.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plus, we have telephone solicitors that invade all our private homes and some you can't even hang up on, they've got a lock with the phone companies.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Fred said...

Carol wrote, "We still have an old rotary phone in the kitchen.".

I think I have one of those around here somewhere. Maybe in the garage? I'm not sure.

It would be the OTHER phone I paid for.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Carol Ann said...

Steve, you have another new picture. Nice! I have a new picture, too, but it is only coming out on Greg's List. Maybe it is because we switched to the new Blogger. Greg is going to look at it for me, and try to fix it.

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

new pic work?

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more try. I'm trying a different picture. If it doesn't work, then I think the picture file may be too big.

At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve, you need to get on the national do-not-call list. It stops almost all telephone solicitation, and if you get one in error and mention you are on the list, they will apologize for bothering you and hang up quick. It doesn't seem to stop Gold Coast....

At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a national Steve do not post list?

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rose, how does one get on this do not call list?

Hi Carol, thanks for the compliment on the "Communiversity" logo. I made the design way back in 1968 when I produced my first "Communiversity" proposal which led to teaming up with a fellow who had inherited the Modern Utopian magazine. Together with my wife we three formed Lime Saddle Commune in 1972 which produced Communities Magazine that is miraculously still going today. The second Communiversity was part of The Bridge operation that I ran in G'ville for five years. We discussed ways of gaining local political control which I think eventually led to the Sequoia County initiative effort in 1992.

For those not wanting Steve Lewis postings, please contact your blog service provider to be put on the no S.L. viewing list..

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Dennis Mayo said...

Hey, all corporations aren't bad. Some of your favorite phony non profits are in fact huge corporations! that not the point of my comment though. I remember very well when the phone was 2shorts and 1 long and that would be for Bransteders out at Cape Town.Our ring was 3 longs.If you cranked the ringer all the way around fast twice you'd get 1 long, about half-speed halfway around was a short. Up on the ranchers in Petrolia if you had a phone you were pretty damn big time. I really enjoyed talking on them, and yes buy lifting the receiver very slowly with a hand over the mouth piece we did listen to almost everyone from Ferndale to Ettersburg.

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived on the commune as a child. Looking for others. Nicky

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the teepee sweats in the gulch.


Post a Comment

<< Home