Archive for December 31st, 2008

Since it’s the end of 2008, we should probably highlight something that had its conclusion today.  Let’s talk phones, since all the kids are digging them so much.  More specifically, let’s talk phone companies, since most of the kids digging the phones probably don’t remember the good old days.

When Alexander Graham Bell got his patent for the telephone back in the 1870’s, he formed the Bell Telephone Company.  The popularity of his new invention meant that, by the early 1900’s, there were gobs of little phone companies all over the place.  Bell Telephone (now called AT&T) began buying them up, increasing its control over the system until, in 1934, the U.S. government stepped in and placed the giant under the Federal Communications Commission, essentially creating a monopoly regulated by the government.

In addition to almost complete control over the U.S. phone network, AT&T owned large chunks of phone operations in Canada and the Caribbean until 1956, when it was forced to relinquish them as part of an antitrust settlement.  In addition, the company was limited to 85% control of the U.S. phone system.  But still, that’s a lot, and almost complete control of the network tempted AT&T to use that power to bury their competition as well as gain a foothold into the emerging computer industry.

Another antitrust suit, filed by the Department of Justice in the mid-1970’s, ended with the breakup of AT&T into regional phone companies, each independent of the other.  The new “Bells” would all begin operation on the first day of  1984.

So as the clocks wound down on December 31, 1983, people around the world gathered to ring in the New Year.  They quaffed their favorite beverages, ate lots of treats, played games, gathered in Times Square, or watched Dick Clark on television.  And in the halls of AT&T buildings all over the country, staff counted down the hours, then the minutes, until one of the largest and most powerful companies in America was split into pieces.

Have a wonderful, safe, and of course, Happy New Year!!

Recommended Reading: A Brief History: The Bell System – Get a little more information from the experts.

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