AT&T – bp002 blog post 002 – History – draft –


How to paint the picture of AT&T’s impact quickly?

What’s the value of being able easily to just pick up the phone and call some business, some government department, or some other person?

A little value?  A lot?  What if you could not do that?  Big difference?  Little difference?

The USA had effective business and residential phones before anybody else.  I’m pretty sure that’s right.  I’m not going to search around to verify that right now, but I’m pretty sure that, for much of the twentieth century, the US had the most comprehensive, most inexpensive, highest-quality, and most reliable business and residential telephone system in the world.  After a while, several European countries, then Japan, then some other Asian countries caught up in their government and business sectors.  And maybe/probobly Israel.  But some countries never did, even to this day.  These impressions are interesting and worth researching and verifying, but, for now …


Does having such a telephone system make a difference?  Let’s think about that.

I’m not talking about cellular phones.  I remember when they started becoming practical and inexpensive enough for business use.  That was around 1987.  I remember the big heavy brick of a cellphone I had at that time.  The brick was considered a cool and high-tech breakthrough at the time.

I also don’t think, for the purpose of considering the impact of AT&T on US national strength, I should focus, at least initially, on personal use of residential phones.  That part was nice.  It was important to all of us personally.  It’s the part everybody thinks about first.  One could argue that keeping friends and family together via phones made people stronger, families stronger, and the country stronger.  I wouldn’t disagree, but this is a lesser effect than the effect of reliable business/organizational phones.  The availability of reliable business/organizational phones is a larger factor in explaining the strategic, structural impact of phones and AT&T on the nation’s strength.


Business use of phones …


Jumping around a bit here in this draft …


Did the US Congress, FCC, and AT&T work intelligently together?

One thing most critics of AT&T didn’t realize is that businesses paying for long-distance service paid for much of the cost of providing comprehensive residential local telephone service.  This was no accident.  It was the result of the US government and AT&T designing the rules of the telecommunications industry to make it happen that way.  It was part of the national telecommunications policy of “universal service.”


The historic breakup of AT&T.

The 1/1/1984 event called, the “Divestiture,” was exactly that.  AT&T, the largest company in the world was broken up to form 8 of the world’s largest companies by a US federal court that forced it to “divest” itself of its 22 or so local telephone companies which were combined into 7 regional local telephone companies.  AT&T was still a very large business with its long-distance and equipment businesses.  AT&T still had its research unit, the AT&T Bell Laboratories, and its manufacturing unit, Western Electric Company (which later became Lucent Technologies).  AT&T could keep its name.  The local phone companies took on new names and some of them changed them, for example, Verizon is one of the original RBOCs.


So many stories and sub-stories …


Convergence of “analog” and “digital” communications and computing technologies.

In technology, by the early 1980s, separate “analog” technologies used for voice telephone, music radio, and broadcast tv communications (led by giant phone company, AT&T, who also provided transmission services to the radio and tv broadcasting companies) and “digital” data processing technologies (led by giant computer company, IBM) had all become digital.  Digital voice, digital data, digital music, digital video, digital image — digital everything!  AT&T responded by trying to add computer systems and services to its product line.  IBM responded by trying to add phone systems to its product line.  Both ran into trouble.  By then, the federal government was already telling the industry with court decisions and legislation that de-regulation, de-centralization, and more and different competitors were needed … they all happened … and that’s where we are today.


So AT&T’s 100-year rise from Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone in the late 1800’s, to owning and operating several local phone companies in several places in the US, to owning virtually all the local phone systems all over the country, to creating high-quality phone equipment design and manufacturing and installation and maintenance and operating standards, to building high-quality systems literally from in-the-ground up, to creating long-distance service, to partnering with the government to provide universal service, to providing research and development funds for Bell Laboratories that created inventions effecting phones and data and aerospace and many other fundamental things, to being a million-employee colossus in 1983 — this was all the right answer for the country for a long time, for many decades.

And then, suddenly, it was no longer the right answer.

New answers were created.

And, once again, that’s where we are today.


Some links

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of telephone?

Bell gets his patent for phone in 1876, 29th birthday

Bell South, split from AT&T in 1984, reacquired by AT&T … can’t tell the players without a program


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