Remembering ‘The Good Old Days’

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When the author of this blog was just a little kid, the world of telecommunication – as offered by the local telephone company – was a far different animal than today.

Our family, back then, had one black, rotary dial phone attached to an eight-party line, with an operator, whose name we knew well, to help with both local and long-distance calls. The good news was that if you had the town’s “old biddy” on your line, you could get all the inside gossip by just very quietly listening in.

The bad news? If a love-struck teenager wanted to talk to his girlfriend, one or more of his party line mates could listen to his sweet talk. And if he had a few gabby folks on his line, the amorous adolescent might have to wait several hours just for the opportunity to have his ardent wooing monitored by friends and neighbors.

But things got better over the years, and by the time I went to college, single lines were becoming popular, and push buttons were replacing the rotary dial. When I finished school, however, and got my first job in the industry – with General Telephone in Erie, Pennsylvania – customers were still not allowed so much as to attach a cover to their telephone books. The telephone company was still a monopoly, although I never heard of one sending out the phone book police to enforce the ban on do-it-yourself covers.

Then the FCC’s Carterfone decision, which allowed attachments to telephone company networks with protective couplers, came just a few months after my industry start date.  And the rest, as they say, is history. From Tom Carter’s two-way radio connection to telephone facilities, through the trials and tribulations of Divestiture – when else — in 1984, to the current Brave New World of telecom, it seems that the two great sci fi novels have come true, albeit in a somewhat less disturbing fashion.

So now, well over fifty years from my industry debut, almost everything has changed. One of the few good things remaining – although in smaller numbers — are what were once called Independent Telephone Companies. Now known as Rural Local Exchange Carriers (RLECs), they still serve their small towns, farming communities, and wide-open, sparsely populated service areas with pride and high quality, modern service.

These days, though, we are mostly bombarded, awed, and overwhelmed by the latest and greatest multifaceted cell phones, super-fast broadband networks, and a myriad of choices offered by a variety of competitive service providers. But whether things are really better is often in the eye of the beholder. As just one example, the innocent listening-in on party lines has been replaced by slamming, cramming, phishing, pharming, vishing and smishing — serious scams encouraged or enabled by new technologies.

But I’m not worried so much about these modern day, nefarious schemes. I am in far more serious self-deliberation about giving up my old but reliable flip phone for a sleek, snazzy and state-of-the-art new smart phone.