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40 Years After Carterphone Ended AT&T Equipment Monopoly 132

fm6 writes "Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of the Carterfone Decision which brought to an end AT&T's monopoly on telephone terminal equipment. Ars Technica has an opinionated but informative backgrounder on this landmark, which pretty much created the telecommunications world as we currently know it."
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40 Years After Carterphone Ended AT&T Equipment Monopoly

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  • by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @06:56PM (#23994095) Homepage

    We don't care. We don't have to...

    Now if only they would get rid of all those dial up lines for internet access in rural areas.

    It's really amazing that phone companies still don't have mandatory minimal access levels for net access outside major metropolitan areas.

    It's getting better, but oh so slow. And in those areas where there is little or no competition 28.8 is still the standard.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by symbolset ( 646467 )

      It's really amazing that phone companies still don't have mandatory minimal access levels for net access outside major metropolitan areas.

      For a solution to this problem google my sig.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FLEB ( 312391 )

      Why should they waste energy and money running lines out to where people aren't?

      If you want to be out in the sticks, away from where people are (or you want something else that depends upon that fact), deal with the consequences of not being in a dense enough population to warrant higher-level service-- the same way people who want to be more closely connected live with the downsides of being in more urban areas. While I can get behind rolling basic services out to everyone (power, phone, dialup), once you

      • by Yez70 ( 924200 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:40PM (#23994373)
        They should establish basic service for everyone. You or I consider broadband as basic service and we all pay the Universal Service Fee on our bills. That money is meant to provide basic service to everyone, particularly in the rural areas. We paid for those lines to be built and we are still paying to keep them maintained. The phone companies, on the other hand, are doing their absolute best to NOT spend the money as they are supposed to spend it. Instead they quote numbers like it costs us $13,000 per phone line per year to get service to people who live in the woods. I don't know about you, but if I was being given $13 grand a year per household to get people phone service, I'd happily erect a cellular tower to cover 50 people and give them wireless broadband. It's time we abandon wireline service, especially in rural areas and force the telcos to refocus their efforts on updated technologies.
      • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by msauve ( 701917 )
        In exchange for getting to use public right-of-way without cost.

        If they get to selectively choose who they serve, let them negotiate land rights across all the private property, everywhere they go.
      • by 54mc ( 897170 ) <samuelmcraven@gm a i> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @08:16PM (#23994605)
        And if you want to eat the bread made from the wheat grown in my fields, you'll run an OC 12 line to my farmhouse.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Toll_Free ( 1295136 )

        I agree 1000 percent with you.

        I am also a subscriber to a wireless broadband company, mostly catering to the Hotel / Hospitality market. They found out that they could make MORE money by providing wifi broadband (802.11 based) to outlying areas in So Calif.

        50.00 a month gets me half megabit bidirectional (another 9.99 a month gets me another few hundredK, QOS'ed for Vonage or my VoIP of choice, an external and internal IP (one for VoIP, one NAT), etc.)). I can pay up to 150 a month to get much faster, but

  • Here's a toast to... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @06:59PM (#23994129)
    500 sets [].
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:02PM (#23994165)

    As they work with the telco electricy in case the mains goes out. I've seen the huge batteries they use and I doubt they would discharge quickly. Cordless phones are obviously useless.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by v1 ( 525388 )

      That's where I put all the UPS's that people give me that don't work anymore, after I go to rat shack and drop $20 on a new battery for them.

      Most of the equipment in my house has a UPS. My phone, my answering machine, my stereo (keeps the channel presets), my WAP in the attic, etc. Gave one to my neighbor recently, her main phone is a cordless and wasn't working during a recent blackout.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Most of the equipment in my house has a UPS. My phone, my answering machine, my stereo (keeps the channel presets), my WAP in the attic, etc. [...]

        I work for the Department of Redundancy Department.

        Rarely have I seen such a topical sig.

        (Me, I use a cell phone; it has its own UPS!)

        • by LM741N ( 258038 )

          Well, if you were psychic, you would know when it was coming and charge your battery ahead of time. Otherwise you are still eventually fucked.

          • Well, if you were psychic, you would know when it was coming and charge your battery ahead of time. Otherwise you are still eventually fucked.

            He could charge the battery now and keep it charged. Ingenious, eh ?-)

    • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:35PM (#23994345)

      I still have a lineman's set in the garage. The cordless phone itself would be quite useless in such a situation. I agree.

      However, cellphone only households are quickly on the rise. I have only used a cell phone since around 2000. Especially since AT&T came out with that unlimited charter plan years back.

      Although I do technically have a phone line with my DSL service I never use it. In fact, the line runs straight from the street to my DSL modem. Just a patch cable in the junction box going straight from the telco box to the specific cat5 run servicing my DSL modem. I rewired the rest of the outlets for RJ45 instead and run Gigabit networking over those cat5 runs.

      If I absolutely had too, I could connect the lineman's set directly to the cat5 coming in from the telco box and make a phone call. I could just as easily sit on my couch in the dark and use my cell phone. Those same huge batteries they use for the telco lines also are used on the cell phone towers.

      So I would say yes, everybody should have an old touch tone phone if they do not already have a cell phone.

      P.S - What about people getting their telephone service through VOIP with their cable company? Batteries won't help in that case and neither would a touch tone telephone. Only a cell phone would provide appropriate fail over.

      • Why don't batteries work for VOIP from the cable company? I've got the cable modem, router, and wireless AP all on a UPS in my household. The phones all work when the power goes out and I stay online with my laptop like nothing happened.

        • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) *

          I was specifically referring to the large batteries that the telco uses on it's own hardware. Those batteries won't help you with your VOIP cablemodem.

          • I have not once had a cable outage coincide with a power outage.

            The ups connected to my cable modem and wireless router has never failed me. Except when the storm causes a surge on the cable line and blows up the modem. (happens to me about once a year, havent found a surge protector that will prevent it, but at least it doesn't blow up my router and computer anymore)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by EdIII ( 1114411 ) *

              You and the other poster COMPLETELY missed my point. No offense, but you both came into the middle of a conversation without reading the original posts.

              I was talking with the other gentleman about a regular touch tone phone acting as a fail over communications device during a power outage in your neighborhood. The batteries that supply the power over the telco lines also allow older non-cordless touch tone telephones to operate since they were designed to operate from that power and not the power being us

              • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                by Toll_Free ( 1295136 )

                What you needed to do was provide a bit more information in your original post.

                Your speaking of the phone not getting AC power. Big difference than the REN.

                But, you do bring up a great point. An even better point would be this.

                All (that I know of) telephone (land line based) systems still have to respond to pulse dialing. Screw touch tone, just pulse dial by tapping the on/off hook button X amount of times (x being the number dialed, ie, tap it 4 times to dial a 4, 9 times for a 9, etc).

                10 taps means 0


                • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) *

                  What you needed to do was provide a bit more information in your original post.

                  Actually I did. If they had read my post fully they would have seen that the batteries I was referring to in context were indeed the batteries being used by the telco to provide backup power the land lines.

                  Those batteries, and the entire land line phone system have nothing do with any of the equipment being used by the cable companies or any other internet provider, including the telephone companies themselves.

            • Cable companies are now required to provide a QoS the same as land-line based telephones.

              This tidbit of information was passed to me while waiting for power lines to be cleared, and wondering WTF a Comcast truck was doing there. The tech helping to guide traffic said that since they provide comcast telephone service, they, legally, have to provide the same type of uptime.

              Could have been bullshit, but that was what I was told by Comcast trench person in Silicon Valley.


              • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) *

                Cable companies are now required to provide a QoS the same as land-line based telephones.

                Yes. That was bullshit. QoS and TCP/IP in general have absolutely nothing to do with land-line based telephones. That would be like saying roast beef sandwiches have something in common with key lime pies.

                I am not sure I could have contained my laughter talking to that person. Well... probably.

                On a recent airline flight I was having problems with my legs. Restless Leg Syndrome is real, no matter what the comics wan

                • I wasn't talking QoS as an IP based 'thing'...

                  I mean a quality of service along the lines of "they have to be up and running as much as the phone company does, since they are now, in fact, a phone company".

                  I couldn't figure out how to word it correctly the first time, so I attempted to borrow a term.

                  I have RLS as well. Medical MJ works wonders, and if your state supports it, your drug test will be found clean by any member of the testing board in the US. Just passing along some info. Marinol (THC) also.


                • I have agree with your stewardess... sorry, flight attendant. With the huge variance in oxygen levels throughout the plane and the great likelihood that a Nintendo DS can bring down a 747 if you 1-Up in Mario, it's a wonder I still fly.
          • Comcast VOIP modem (which all in one phone+Internet modem) comes with battery that will keep VOIP side running for several hours after power outage. If you have old phone which I do, I've used phone in a power outage.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Miamicanes ( 730264 )

          > Why don't batteries work for VOIP from the cable company?

          Because cable companies, unlike phone companies, aren't required to have backup power to run THEMSELVES. Or, as Comcast's reps eloquently put it after Hurricane Wilma, "Our crews follow FPL's." No power == no cable == no cable internet. Hurricane Wilma left my old neighborhood's power lines relatively unscathed, but destroyed our power substation, so we had no power for more than two weeks (Coral Gables... central Dade County). I never lost DSL l

      • by LM741N ( 258038 )

        Like I said on another comment, unless you are psychic, you won't know when its coming and via Murphy's Law, your battery will be close to dead and can't be charged.

      • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @09:27PM (#23995235) Homepage Journal

        I could just as easily sit on my couch in the dark and use my cell phone.

        But the cell networks typically fall down and are completely useless during any type of large-scale emergency. Cell phones were completely useless to those ensnared in the Northeast Blackout of 2003 but I never had any problem getting through to people on my land line (until the batteries at the CO ran out anyway). Cell carriers design and maintain their infrastructure under the assumption that only a small percentage of consumers will be using the network at any given time and they don't bother to plan for contingencies. So when something happens that prompts a bunch of people to dial a number and hit Send at once, the whole thing falls down.

        • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Sunday June 29, 2008 @09:40PM (#23995343)

          I had heard that plenty of cell towers were still active during Katrina for 48+ hours afterwards. I dunno what percentage of cell towers have battery backed up UPS power supplies, but to my knowledge they are pretty common now. I've personally seen a couple of towers here locally, and they all had battery back up for at least 24 hours and one tower had a hook up to a generator.

          Personally, if I ever had a large-scale emergency I would just run down to my data center. It has a very well equipped security force, unlimited diesel fuel contract providing emergency power, redundant internet, redundant air condition, and UPS redundant power circuits to every cage. I'm pretty sure that I would be able to communicate from there. If I couldn't do that, I would think that the emergency might be REALLY big.

        • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
          it has nothing to do with them assuming that only a small percentage use the connection and everything to do with the physical limitation os cell tower antenna, yes you can get many many "fingers" of signal sent, but there is still a limit and the only way around that limit is more towers
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Toll_Free ( 1295136 )

        I use Vonage and a UPS to power my Vonage adapter, my WiFi adapter (I get WiFi based Inet), and my WiFi router in the house.

        It will last nearly 12 hours... I "pulled the plug" in a blackout test one day... It pulled slightly more than 11 hours.

        It, too, was one of those UPS's that was a 'gimme' from a friend.


    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      Where I live we get about 8 hrs before the phone lines die. Now the phone company sends a van out to sit there and recharge the batteries, extra important here as no cell coverage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:06PM (#23994183)

    Colbert explains [] how the old AT&T re-grouped/formed.

    (Is it really that bad? All Baby Bells are back together?)

    • by dwye ( 1127395 )

      > (Is it really that bad? All Baby Bells are back together?)

      Verizon (nee, Bell Atlantic) is still not owned by AT&T (nee, Southwest Bell).

    • by ces ( 119879 )

      well no not really.

      2 RBOCs (Bell Atlantic, NYNEX), GTE, MCI, and various wireless assets make up Verizon.

      4 RBOCs (Southwest Bell, Pacific Bell, Ameritech, and Bell South) what was left of AT&T, and various wireless assets make up AT&T.

      1 RBOC (USWest) and Qwest (then mostly a wholesale fiber network), make up, well Qwest.

      These days Qwest is kind of the odd man out and much smaller than most of the former pieces of AT&T. The (new) at&t and Verizon are about the same size.

  • It took 40 years for the change in case.

    it took till just recently to get VOIP.

  • how carter won (Score:5, Informative)

    by trb ( 8509 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:18PM (#23994237)
    If I recall, this is how Carter won that suit. AT&T always claimed that they were concerned that if competitors connected their hardware to the AT&T network that they might damage the network with badly coupled electrical loads, see []

    Carterphone had a device where the handset sat in the cradle of their device, it worked in a similar manner to the later acoustically coupled modems, see: []

    So there was no electrical connection (coupling) between the Carter device and the phone. The device had a cradle that the handset sat in, coupling the mic and the speaker. The AT&T lawyers said, well, your device is touching our handset. So Carter lifted the handset an inch out of the coupler, and said, is this too close? The AT&T lawyer said yes. So Carter carried his device across the room and said is this too close? The lawyer said no. Then Carter moved closer and closer, and AT&T's defense crumbled.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      This may have been a small evidence. However, the divesture was initiated by a disgruntled ATT employee who started MCI. So, with the diversture, we have come for 15 dollar phone bills to hundreds of dollars. Technology advanced but so did the ablility to charge more. Regulation kept the telecommunication industry within affordable limits. Grandma and Grandpa on a limited income could afford a telephone. Now, the base rate is more than some social security checks. So, as we look at the advances, one mus
      • Re:how carter won (Score:5, Informative)

        by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:40PM (#23994371)

        Everybody seems to be confused about what this decision was. This was not the decision that broke up AT&T. This was the decision that allowed people to purchase telephones from companies other than AT&T. Note, not telephone service, juts plain telephones. Before this decision, you had to buy (or more likely, rent) all of your telephone equipment from the phone company.

        As for the rest, what are you smoking? I can get a phone line for under $20/month, and that's 2008 money. Try doing that before the breakup. I can get plans for under $50/month that give me unlimited calling anywhere in the country. Try that before the breakup.

        • The same was true in other countries as well. My grandparents in Japan still have a rotary dial telephone from The Old Days. It's wire goes directly from the unit into the wall socket, there's not modular jack on either end. It's also lime green, because it was their second phone(normal phones were black).

          It has NO logos or writing, not even a "Made in..." mark, because there was no need to put any markings on it. It's the Phone Company's phone, the standard household model. There was no other phone to diff

          • I wonder if the phone still technically belongs to the old NTT.

            Wouldn't surprise me. I still hear stories of old people who are still paying $3/month (or whatever the cost is), month after month, year after year, decade after decade, to their local phone company to rent a telephone, just because it's what they've always done.

      • We are enslaved. (Score:1, Insightful)

        by jd ( 1658 )
        Want proof? The parent examples should be proof enough, but think about the following:
        • Your DSL maximum speed is independent of hardware, it's a configuration setting at the teleco office. It's no use saying they charge more for more actal usage, since they throttle ADSL bandwidth if a user uses more than the average amount.
        • The unauthorized switching of long-distance carriers is still a common practice.
        • A number of States (such as Virginia) have such poor phone service that the message "all circuits are b
        • by maxume ( 22995 )

          Yeah man, I know what you are talking about, AT&T just found out my cousin didn't have a phone plan and they had him locked up.

          He says they have him making batteries (he only writes letters, they don't get phones).

    • Re:how carter won (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wljones ( 79862 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @09:02PM (#23995051)

      The Carterphone case was covered in my college telecommunications course. Dr. Baker made two points not mentioned in Slashdot. First, Tom Carter knew he did not have the resources to fight Ma Bell (AT&T for the nickname challenged). He asked the oil drilling industry for help, and received all he needed. The Carterphone was critical to the drilling business. Second, Dr. Baker stated that AT&T had a history of fighting the wrong lawsuits for the wrong reasons. Had they simply allowed acoustic coupling with no electronic attachment, the Carterphone would have satisfied customer needs, and the attached equipment monopoly would still exist. AT&T fought it, lost heavily, made unwelcome enemies, and left themselves open to the later lawsuit which destroyed their communications monopoly.

  • Phone cops (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:34PM (#23994339) Homepage
    I was going to post a link to a YouTube where Johnny Fever jumped behind a sofa to hide from the Phone Cops -- to illustrate to the youngun's how it was once illegal to have personally-owned phones that weren't leased from AT&T. It was to illustrate how society had changed.

    But the YouTube link [] I found on Google says "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation". So now we have Video Cops instead of Phone Cops.

    We can't even talk about monopolies of the past due to monopolies of the present.

  • Clumsy wording, no punch. What was wrong with the one I submitted, "Happy Cartfone Day"? And why do editors have time to change headlines but not the time to make sure submissions actually make sense?

  • So I guess we haven't gone that far.

  • You have only one entity to blame for the lack of choice when it comes to phone services - the government. If AT&T had a monopoly, it was only kept alive by government restrictions on the creation of competing lines. No doubt such legislation was bought and paid for by the company, but only the government is capable of applying the force necessary to keep competition from existing. As long as government manipulation of the economy is possible, so are monopolies capable of being indefinitely sustained.
  • by VValdo ( 10446 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @09:03PM (#23995055)

    You of course already know how a monopoly is broken because it happens so frequently. Y'know, cuz like... it's always in the news that our government breaks monothic companies like Microsoft or Halliburton into pieces to foster competition, create free markets, and promote options for the consumer.

    Regardless, here is a handy chart [] to illustrate how Ma Bell was broken up in '84 and what has happened since. Stephen Colbert broke it down nicely here [], although that link has been removed [] do to copyright claims by Viacom, one of our six global media conglomerates [].

    Thank goodness you can still watch it in Canada [].

    Of all the AT&T derivatives... we know Qwest didn't spy on us. So that's one.


    • Monopolies like Ma Bell would not have surived for nearly as long had they not been sustained by government restrictions on the creation of competing lines. In reality that is the only thing that can maintain a monopoly - force-backed manipulation of the economy through legislation.
  • I just got the news that MetroPCS is pretty much allowing full consumer choice on access devices.

    I'm so glad they're building out in my city, because Verizon, at&t and Sprint all pretty much suck because they still charge top dollar for net access on their networks.

    Because that's all I want. With the net access I can do the things I need to do.
  • "this landmark, which pretty much created the telecommunications world as we currently know it."
    telecommunications of the USA don't you mean?
    not everyone in the world has to suffer the USAs ridiculous telecom situation.
  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @11:31PM (#23996213)
    Headline is "40 Years After Carterphone Ended..."

    TFA (corerctly" has "Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of the Carterfone Decision..."

    Well done Timothy. All you had to do was cut and paste, but you had to try to type.

  • FTFA: Within a few years of the FCC's Carterfone decision, America had become a motley world of funny receivers, slick switch boxes, and rickety answering machines. More importantly, consumers quickly embraced the "modulate/demodulate" device, otherwise known as the telephone modem.

    Really? Because in the world that I've actually lived my life in, "consumers" (meaning the general public, and not just B2B niche markets) didn't even have computers in their homes, much less modems to connect them to the phone

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun