Who's asking: Bill Walsh
An entire generation is growing up unaware that it used to cost a lot of money to make a long-distance phone call, and that it used to cost more money to call from, say, New York to California than from New York to New Jersey.
So how much did it really cost? I'd meant to ask Dad, when I saw him on Saturday, how much it cost him to call New York from Hong Kong after Kathy and I were born (he was on a ship in the South China Sea when we were born, and didn't even know we were twins until the ship arrived in Hong Kong a day or two later). Dad, if you remember, post it in the comments section.
What we consider "long distance" has changed dramatically over the past century. In 1915, it was a long-distance call from Atlanta, GA to Forest Park, GA, about 12 miles away. A five-minute phone call cost 15 cents, the equivalent of $287.25 in today's currency.
In constant 1996 currency, a three-minute phone call from London to New York cost £486.98 in 1927, £62.80 in 1945, £12.46 in 1970 and 52 pence in 1996.
It wasn't possible to call from New York to California until 1915, and completing a phone call required connections from one station to another (the "station to station" calls). A network of physical phone cables connected one city to another, and operators at each station connected calls by hand. Connections faded out and got lost, and depending on how far away you were calling, you might have to schedule a phone call in advance, or place the call and then wait several minutes for the operator to call you back with a connection.
Direct long-distance dialing in the U.S. began in 1951, with the introduction of area codes. The U.S. originally had 90 area codes; now it has more than 250. Being able to dial person-to-person was a major advance, but calls were still priced according to the distance between callers. Bell Telephone was a natural monopoly whose rates were governed by a federal commission; an anti-trust judge broke the monopoly in 1984, and rates were deregulated. The advent of wireless technology made the old telephone cable networks obsolete, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I now pay one flat rate that includes unlimited long distance within the United States. Cell phones don't distinguish between local and long-distance calls, and Claire's Canadian cell phone is on a program that doesn't distinguish between calls in or to the U.S. or Canada.
Matthew and Henry have just memorized their phone number, which impressed me very much this weekend.
"Somebody doesn't have a phone number," Henry told me, after he rattled off his number.
"Who doesn't have a phone number?" I asked.
"Dogs," he said. "Dogs don't have phones. Only people do."
That explains why Dizzy is so lousy with messages...