TMOT: Analysis (The History of Telephony)

As part of divesting content from The Museum of Telephony, anything identified by moi has been sent back to me as being the rights holder. 

Steven M. Clickford

As I am writing this history, it’s 2020, nearly a century after the Spanish Flu; and the midst of the growth of telephony that grew around that time. Also: our country is more divided, not just red and blue, not just Republican or Democrat, not Ford vs Chevy, not Nortel vs. AT&T or Avaya Red vs. Avaya Blue. We are up against a very divided country; and allegedly the U.S. is dealing with what could become the deadliest pandemic since 1918 known as COVID19 or the novel Coronavirus from China. In the technical sense of division; from the mind of an engineer, conflict brings innovation; but from a customer, division confuses them; from a business standpoint since the 1980s, it’s all about making money and being rewarded with cash… but what do they do with it? Sit on it!

What about the middle class? Why is my Cisco phone “Made in China”? What about the people who were proud to work at Ma Bell at the repair plants? What about the Boomers and people like my gram’s age who is very sensitive to reliable telephony?

We have forgotten what made the past so great that brought us the present. Too often Americans (by choice) want to have short attention spans. Americans do not care about “the past” they by choice “want to move forward”. Today many Gen Z (the youngest generation coming to age) want to spend money on “experiences” completely opposite to the Baby Boomers of yester-generation. But like the Boomers, they want things cheap and will laugh at the price of an iPhone; but yet will whine about the “monopoly”.

The so-called “monopoly” by the technologists today is far from what it used to be. AT&T would’ve been shamed if they were hoarding cash or gave a Western Electric exec stock options, since stock options wasn’t really a “financial instrument”. The Bell System was for sure corrupt, at some parts of the company. For whatever reason some other groups felt “secure” that their phones worked, that they had “service” that they “took care” of their customer. The ones who had a grudge was people who were fixated on price, the engineer who didn’t like using a telephone, and wanted to extend the Internet, etc.

AT&T would’ve been better of breaking up the communications equipment; go into their failed attempt in computing, and then keep the all local telephone service. The company was loosing margins on their Long Lines (or long distance services) from the 70s to the Divestiture.

What the 1984-implemented Divestiture caused

  1. allowed dog-eat-dog, cut throat competition.
  2. Shareholders came first; customers, employees came second (MCI was known for cheap long distance service; the amount of customers and cash coming in resulted in a high stock price, enabling “insiders” to use MCI as a private bank to leave the company, start it up, if it succeeded or failed, they’d return back.)
  3. Local telephone service was under siege by the Telecommunications Act of 1996; ElChea0 Telephone could by law co-locate with a Baby Bell central office, and the Baby Bell had to comply!
  4. With the Telecommunications Act, this forced Baby Bells to merge and consolidate, to grow their profit margins (remember shareholder-first)
  5. Lenient laws for “innovation” = new markets, but enabling sub-par standards (such as crappier audio quality)
  6. Lenient laws to “maximize shareholder profits”, taking skilled labor (whether you like unions or not) out of a job.
  7. “High tech” companies brought today’s new economy on zero regulation, with zero corporate governance, and zero accountability, forcing customers to “trust” these “digital companies” that reinvent (err rewriting) standards/policies/goal posts to throw smaller people out of business (Baby Bells, etailers like Amazon and eBay)
  8. The consumer is more confused by whose the villain or the hero in the economy, when in reality the populous views is far from accurate (the smaller “innovative” companies are profiting like crazy while the service providers are being sucked out of cash, even though they are pocketing customer’s money too.)

The fact is, that after the breakup, the very same thing the market wanted would actually be the beginning of the end of telephony, or standardized telecommunications, the end of customer social norms, and the inmates controlling the asylum (the shareholders and corporate executives.)

I was born 3 years after Divestiture. I didn’t follow much of AT&T’s past, until a few years before the first carnation of The Museum of Telephony. The old AT&T’s reputation was tainted by popular opinions that was probably conflated facts. The Divestiture confused a bunch of customers. Post Diveisture, customers were confused. Like some techies, some looked up to IBM even if they had skeletons in their closet, mine was literally AT&T (the competitive company of course.) I literally saw Ma Bell literally fall to her death. I remember they spun off NCR when 5 years before they bought them out as National Cash Register, the same year IBM divested ROLM. I remember AT&T’s buyout of TCI, then Media One, to then sell them off to Comcast. To then see AT&T basically sell themselves out to SBC, the Baby Bell of the West Coast and Connecticut.

The AT&T after 2005 was basically a Baby Bell inheriting their mother’s name, but still operating in that dirty corporate culture that America so wanted so badly in the 1980s; that they are bitching about today.

Lastly, because of the “cutting edge”, progressive, anti “antiquated” tech mindset, the 1 year refresh cycle (remember the 3 year cycles in the Wintel/Cisco world?); as technology has evolved, there is rarely something, that is a thing, an object that unifies us. Most Millennials can’t tell a story of a item that others shared, except if you’re like me a deep techie. But for the older, non techies, that infamous plastic clad, 500-type rotary dial telephone, brings older generations with stories or “remember-that”?

For the human side of technology, the best unity was before PCs, clearly before mobile phones, and anything that was made prior to 1987, let’s just end that the year I was born was the end of unified technology that multi-generations can relate to.

For many of my audience, I’m an old heart, and don’t subscribe to IT-group-think nor do I care for today’s consumer tech. This narrative was written out of respect of the technology that long came before my existence, because I knew there was a world before I came onto this planet too!