Once upon a time there was a single phone company in the USA. This company was hated for many reasons, though I never quite understood why. They provided a service that was almost universal, and it was cheap. When the minimum wage was $3.25, a typical basic phone bill was about nine dollars, though mine was $3.50 because I was enrolled in a special “low volume” plan since I made few phone calls. Normally, for the basic rate, you could make unlimited local calls, your phone was provided free, and you got a phone book. Long distance rates were expensive, perhaps thirty cents a minute, but if you called at night and on weekends, that rate was lowered to about ten cents a minute. The voice at the other end was crystal clear, there was little interference if any, and only the person making the call paid.
When the phone company was broken up, people cheered (I actually saw people screaming in joy, clapping and dancing around), though the truth is, the phone company wanted to be broken up. As a monopoly, it was only allowed to provide a single service, and they saw the glimmers of new technologies and possibilities on the horizon. They, being brilliant tacticians, kept the lucrative long-distance business and parceled out the money draining local service. Phone rates went up and up and up. These new companies restructured their businesses so that towns even a few miles away were considered “local long distance.” And you had to buy your own phones.
Then things got really bizarre in the phone business, and now there are untold numbers of phone providers. With cell phones, we have to put up with terrible conditions that were unheard of in the old days. We have to put up with dropped calls, spotty service, horrendous basic rates, and both the person making the call and the one receiving the call have to pay. Of course, our phones go with us everywhere, which is rather a mixed blessing.
And we get six different phone books, all published by different companies, instead of just one. And not one of those phone books is complete for some odd reason. Some businesses don’t show up in all of them, though all businesses show up in some of them.
Yeah, I know. This isn’t my usual sort of post, but I got a call this morning from “Card Services” about my non-existent credit card, and even though I hung up right away, a minute was subtracted from my allowable minutes. It just got me thinking about how far we had come. Or not.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.