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.