Growing up, there were things of which we were certain; there would always be 12 possible VHF television channels (only about half in any given market concurrently) including 3 networks. UHF stations weren’t ever very big because they didn’t have the same quality signal, though they had more of an impact away from major markets. You could only watch the programming at times of their choosing. And if you wanted to keep connected to the world you saw there you needed to go through a phone company, of which there was exactly one on the list from which to choose.

Most people get their television from something other than over-the-air broadcast today, making the channel 2-13 selection for higher quality television a thing of the past. Those original networks, plus some others, quickly got into cable/satellite systems with other choices. They’ve also made significant portions of their programming over the internet. But the phone company still seems to be working according to their old way of doing business.

At the 1964-1965 Worlds Fair, AT&T demonstrated a technology they were investigating that would add video to a phone call. In the years that followed, it remained as a future. AT&T was the only game in town for Long Distance and it took the arrival of MCI and Sprint for them to start getting creative on pricing. They even charged extra for touch-tone service long after their switching systems made it more efficient for them than the old pulse dialing. Lots of other things happened to shake things up, including breaking up AT&T into a bunch of baby bells (then allowing them all to combine back together until you have just Verizon and AT&T - formerly known as Cingular). But their long-distance rates are still crazy and they still haven’t worked out telephone video. I had a video call with my son who’s away at college a couple of nights ago. He could even bring up the screen on his computer to show us something he was working on in real time, something never even envisioned at the Worlds Fair. But the call wasn’t through the phone company, I did it over the internet. A few issues, but it worked and the technology is getting better all the time. And nobody tried to ding me with additional charges. In fact, the whole call was free.

I remember having a business meeting with someone at Southern New England Telephone, some time in the early to mid 80’s, who was scoping out the company involvement in something called cell phones. She seemed to feel she was being punished for something by being relegated to this minor sub-business which would always be a minor sub-business. They were wrong, of course, and Cell Phones became a bit more than a minor sub-business. So they merged them in with the rest of the original phone company. I read somewhere recently that there are now more cell phone numbers than land line numbers. They managed to catch up on that one.

We have a problem with a scammer that keeps calling one of our cell phones. It took a minute to do a quick Internet search to find a bunch of sites with complaints about the same number. AT&T could easily do that too. We called them but they really don’t want to know. They won’t block the number that’s called my daughter’s cell phone 4 times today (as of about noon) and a number of other times over the last several days. They offered to put her on a no-solicitation list. Do they really think that someone who is already running an illegal scam is going to pay attention to that list? Of course not. They also offered an option for something called Smart Limits which can block callers (thereby confirming that they have the technology to do it). For that we need to add $5/month. So, in order to stop someone from burning up our minutes, which we pay AT&T for, we need to pay AT&T something else. That seems to make them complicit in the whole thing.

A while back, we canceled our land line because we rarely used it. Using Google Voice, we can have calls directed to other phones of our choice, so that’s now our home number. One of the options we have there is to block certain numbers, so if a call comes in that way, we don’t even see it. No charge. If the “New” AT&T cared about it’s customers more than the old AT&T, they would do the same. Instead, they still think like the old phone company. It’s crazy, because if AT&T had offered me the same things at even a reasonable price that Google gives me for free today, I may have paid for that land line for a bit longer. What they don’t realize is that other people and companies are out there getting ready to eat their lunch. That makes hating the phone company a bit more tolerable because you know that some day, it will end.

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