If it’s the best telecommunications system on earth, why on earth change it? (Oct, 1982)

I wonder how many other companies in U.S. history have had to write a “We’re being split up by the U.S. government, but here’s why it’s a good thing” ad? I would guess maybe Standard Oil or U.S. Steel, but I’ve never seen one.

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If it’s the best telecommunications system on earth, why on earth change it?

If you’ve ever tried to make a telephone call anyplace else on earth, you know what you’ve got in America. The best telecommunications system in the world.

But now you’ve heard the Bell System is on the verge of major changes. Changes in how we’re organized. Changes in the way you can choose to do business with us.

Why change something that works?

There’s a very good reason. The telecommunications business itself has changed.

For most of our history, the Bell System has had one overriding goal: universal service. Dependable telephone service at reasonable rates for everyone who wanted it.

Bolstering that goal were government policies determining that telephone companies would operate differently from most American companies. Within many areas of the country, we were to be the exclusive supplier of telecommunications services. And since the Bell System didn’t operate in a competitive market, its rates and profits were strictly regulated by the government. But today the goal of universal service has been achieved. Over 96% of American households have telephone service.

Now regulators and legislators in this country are looking more to the marketplace and competition, rather than to regulation, to decide who will provide competitive services and equipment and how they will be priced. In part, this stems from an increasing sentiment in this country for the deregulation of major industries.

But perhaps most important is the fact that technology has changed the future of telecommunications. We are about to enter a new era – the Information Age. The technology of communications gradually has merged with that of computers. The marriage of these two technologies offers the potential for an impressive array of new customer services. However, the blending of these two technologies has also blurred the boundaries between a traditionally regulated industry – communications-and the unregulated data-processing industry.

The combination of all these factors has led to a rethinking of public policies on telecommunications. These changes will require some changes in the Bell System. But we can assure you that your telephone service will still be the best telecommunications system on earth.

Along with your local Bell telephone company, we’ll be telling you about any changes as they occur. In ads like this.

In each of these ads you’ll find a telephone number. That number is an important part of our “Let’s Talk” program.

This program has been set up by the Bell System to help you understand exactly what the changes at the Bell System will mean for you right now. And in the future.

Call us. At 1 800 555-5000.

There’ll be somebody to talk to. Somebody to help you. To answer your questions. To get you information.

So call us.

Let’s talk

Bell System

6 comments
  1. GaryM says: November 5, 20109:40 am

    I read it more as “here’s why it doesn’t mean we were evil before.”

  2. Toronto says: November 5, 20105:32 pm

    Hey! An actually, real, WORKING 555 number!

    (I know, I know…)

  3. John Savard says: November 6, 201012:21 am

    Yes, there was always 555-1212, long distance information.

    At the time the advertisement came out, the people who read it would likely have remembered from news stories that AT&T fought its breakup tooth and nail in the courts.

    I would take this ad as saying neither “we weren’t evil before” or “this is a good thing”, but simply “don’t panic, it isn’t quite as much the end of the world as we had been saying”.

    Yes, the government is breaking us up, and we wish they hadn’t, but they had their reasons, and your phone will still work.

  4. woofer says: November 6, 20103:36 am

    In retrospect, breaking up Ma Bell was a very bad decision. There could have been changes that would have allowed carriers access to the network without destroying one of the crown jewels of American industry. And as events have turned out, the “baby Bells” are regrouping into another larger company. This and airline deregulation were two bad choices that consumers are still suffering from.

  5. Michael, N5RLR says: November 7, 201010:36 am

    I agree with Woofer. The breakup of the original Bell System brought any number of Johnny-Come-Latelys who’d hung out their shingles as telecom service and equipment providers. I can’t count how many times I’ve needed to make a payphone call only to discover that the telephone I was trying to use was utter junk. [Can you say, "Intellicall?" Sure, I knew you could.] Western Electric payphones could take a nuclear bomb and still function; not so the instruments since that time.

    Yeah…I know, payphones are passé these days, but not everyone has a cellphone. Don’t get me started on those damnfool things.

    Sometimes, a so-called monopoly can be a good thing. At least there is standardization.

    Okay, enough of my soapbox for now. :P

  6. Casandro says: November 8, 201012:00 am

    Well here in Germany they went through the mistake of not breaking up the previously state run phone company. This effectively raised prices considerably and lowered the quality of service.

    The original idea was to hand out licences on a communal level to companies providing Internet for free to the local schools.

    Some communcal institutions already had their own networks and later offered service to anybody. The service is like this http://www.xkcd.org/806… :)

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