Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What if Judge Green had never lived?

Full disclosure: The telephone company paid for nearly everything I ever ate, wore or owned for the first 20 years of my life. My dad put in 40 years with Pacific Tel, and my first real job was with The Phone Company back when there was only one. Counting three years in the Army, for which I got credit, I did more than a decade as a Phone Man.
People loved to hate The Phone Company in those days, in much the way they hate Microsoft today. I'll tell you what, though: Stuff worked. Phones lasted a lifetime. If something went wrong, which it hardly ever did, they'd come fix it free. When you needed a booth (this was long before cell phones), the things were ubiquitous, clean and operational. Sort of like Starbucks, come to think of it, only cheaper.
That didn't happen by accident. Platoons of people were employed to check, clean, test and repair coin phones. My dad supervised them on a regional level for awhile, and he took a personal interest. More times than I can count, I saw him phone his office, give the location of a booth he'd spotted that didn't meet standards and direct that somebody get to it today. And somebody did.
Then came Judge Harold Green, the jurist who broke up AT&T. Judge Green's decision ended a perceived monopoly, opened the telephone industry to competition, broke down the last thing in America that worked and led, eventually, to my doing without a phone until Tuesday.
"Moisture in the wires," surmised the telephone person to whom I reported No Dial Tone on Saturday morning. That would have been my guess, too: The wires bake in the hot sun all summer, the wind blows, the insulation cracks, it rains. Like magic, you have a ground in the circuit. No calls can go in or out.
Might this be something a phone company could anticipate and perhaps prevent? Well, yes. As is so often the case now that government isn't watching out for consumers, though, I suspect profit takes precedence over service.
High-quality equipment costs money, and preventive maintenance costs more. Over the short haul, roughly the career span of the people making decisions, it's often cheaper for a business to go lowest bidder and hope than to do the job well. By the time things start to go wrong, you'll be safely retired, or at least bumped up the ladder of blame. You see it everywhere.
In the old days of which I speak, there probably would have been a repairman in my neighborhood right now, climbing poles to track down the problem while it's still a problem. Post-Judge Green, though (and post- a lot of other stuff; it isn't all his fault), I'm told I can expect a service call maybe Tuesday, by which time I figure there's a 50-50 chance the wires will have dried out, the phone will be working and the leak will be impossible to find until the next time we have a storm, when the phone company will be busy and won't be able to get a guy out until Tuesday.
There's nothing wrong with a nice, efficient monopoly, you know, as long as somebody's authorized to crack the whip.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

AT&T has basically reabsorbed all the smaller companies it was broken up into, however, without any of the quality you mentioned. The flaw in the theory of "competition" is that it never occurs. Regardless of which provider you use (if you actually have a choice in your area) is that they all empty your wallet and then turn you upside down and shake you to make sure they got all the change you had too.

Then there is the abject lack of quality service. Well, any service most of the time. Thank god the government protected us when it busted up Ma Bell....



1:57 PM  
Blogger Steve_R said...

I agree that the "free" repair seemed very friendly, but... you didn't own the phone, and although it lastes 20 or 30 years an performed flawlessly you were actually renting it. $2.00/month times 2 phones times 20 yeaes is $960.00 for free service :-)

Wires on poles or underground have in large part neen replaced with fiber-optic cable. In the future, their function will probably be replaced by wireless technology. I guess that's "progress"

2:37 PM  
Blogger sabjoro said...

Problem is people have too short an attention span. Sign up for cell phone service, hate them for 18 months, switch service, hate new service for 18 months, go back to old service, repeat.

I still have the phone that was installed in 1958. Works well. Only thing I did was take out part of the ringer - has 2 bells and took one out to make it quieter; now instead of ding, ding, ding it goes ding, ding, ding. A little cotton made it quieter still. Very little in the way of volume control back then.

If you want service go to India. All the techs do these days is replace components until it works instead of actual repairs.

Service like with the human body - if you wait long enough the body will heal itself or dies. Either way the tech no longer has to fix it.

2:55 PM  
Blogger sabjoro said...

Hey, where are all my spaces? I wrote: ding, ding, ding it goes ding, ding, ding.

It should be ding, ding, ding it goes ding, space, space, space ding, etc.

I guess this compresses excess spaces.

3:00 PM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

The HTML code for a hard space without the spaces in between is: & n b s p ;

So I'll try it here to see if Blogger accepts it.

ding           ding           ding

As for Cory's premise about economic monopolies outweighing the benefits of competition - I must disagree.

I think the main difference Cory identifies is corporate responsibility. Workers in those days were much better trained and were proud to work for their employer.

They took pride in their work and in pleasing customers. That work and business ethic is sorely missing these days for a host of reasons outside the scope of this blog.

I can tell you one thing though: Here in Arizona, Qwest is the RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company) and is known by most folks as Qworst.

As a footnote, our RBOC in AZ used to be called U.S. West before Qwest took over through a corporate buyout.

5:53 PM  
Blogger dwoods48 said...

After Watching the News Last Night One of the Stations has a Camera at Boomtown . Looks Pretty rough out there I wouldn't be expecting a Service call anytime soon...

The only thing you can count on is that Your Bill will arrive on time , and you may even have a few extra Bucks tacked on for disturbing their "customer Service " person.

7:08 AM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

Off-topic post

Just wanted to pass on this book review "A Nation of Counterfeiters" by the New York Times.

The closing sentence made me LOL

Here's the link (free registration required)

Here's the Amazon link

8:03 AM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

I have to go on record in praise of at least one AT&T repairman.

The bunker where I set up my defensive perimeter at night had the same problem Cory describes. In wet weather, I would lose phone service and it would come back as soon as things dried out. In Nevada, that could be a matter of only hours.

One rainy night a couple of years ago, silent went the land line. I called it in on the cell phone and was told two things:

1. If the line to the box is live, then I would have to pay a service charge.
2. They couldn't get out until three days down the road.

I complained that it happens almost every time it rains and service is restored long before anybody can get out to check it. Sure enough, the dial tone returned by the next morning and I called and cancelled the service visit.

Here's the punchline: About a month later, I was clearing some fields of fire behind the bunker and happened to look up. I discovered that, with no discussion or fanfare, someone had installed a sturdy, brand new lead from the poles to the box.

Haven't had a problem since.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

First, I want to say that i'm very happy tht you are now publishing on the web. I've always enjoyed your comments.

Another effect of the breakup is that a considerable amount of engineering talen was lost. Many developments came out of the Bell labs, inventions such as the Transistor.

3:02 PM  

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