Today, when one home might have six phone lines, it's hard to imagine six homes on one line. But 70 years ago, most people had party lines. In the Bell System, 36% of residential customers were on two-party lines, and 27% were on four-party lines.
In the late 19th century, the Bell System had used the cheaper (and less profitable) lines to get more Americans hooked on what company executives called "the telephone habit."
The ultimate goal was to move customers on to more expensive private lines. Accordingly, "the object of this (multiparty) service will not be accomplished unless the service is unsatisfactory," Bell chief engineer Joseph Davis said in 1899. "It therefore requires that enough subscribers be placed on a line to make them dissatisfied and desirous of a better service."
I daresay this strategy remains a mainstay of telecommunications companies. I noticed recently Alltel has begun a special charge if you want to use your phone as a modem. Not that long ago, I noticed I was unable to connect my Nokia to the web via my phone, which had previously worked flawlessly. I'm not an idiot. I knew I'd been disabled and called tech support to at least see if they'd admit it. They didn't.
Alltel must have figured they weren't selling enough "smart phones"with their super pricey smart phone plans so long as folks were learning to make use of their cheap unlimited mobile web access. The indirect evidence supporting my hypothesis is the recent "new service" offered by Alltel which is... drumroll please ... using your phone as a modem.
In contrast, Sprint seemed to have anticipated this eventuality and from the getgo charged by kb transferred, which may well have hurt their sales of web access, but seems a little more savvy now that other companies like Alltel are cranking up the prices. I guess I'll have to check how many kb I use in a month and compare the price.
Companies think we're dumb. You want other evidence? Make a payment to a credit card company or even on your student loan and see if they want you to pay the "service fee." If you ever get this, raise a little hell and they'll back off and not charge it. I suspect if not illegal, it's close enough that no one will push the issue, they'll "waive" it right away, at least that's been my experience so far.
Grrr. No wonder people go off the grid. For more about telephone history, stop by privateline.com.