Understanding Your Home Telephone System

If you are even remotely handy with a screwdriver and pliers, you can work on your telephone inside your house with no need for a service call.

| April/May 1993

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    Telephones have come a long way since Alexander Graham Bell's invention in the 1870s.
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    A modular telephone jack.

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With the almost decade-old break up of American Telephone Telegraph's velvet-fisted monopoly over the nation's telecommunications network, you and I gained more control over (and responsibility for) our home phone systems than we may realize.

Before the so-called "AT&T Divestiture" we had to lease phone equipment. We weren't permitted to replace or modify phones, or so much as touch the phone wiring in our own homes, on penalty of loss of service or a fine thanks to tariffs (laws that protect the prerogatives of utilities whose services and rates are regulated by the government). We had a choice of less than a dozen phone models and colors, couldn't mute their infernal bell-ringers, and had to pay extra for anything but an ugly black desk phone. Extension phones cost extra too—and by measuring the electrical draw of your ringer current, Ma Bell could tell if you'd hooked up an extension or a ringer in the barn "on your own hook," so to speak. Tariffs permitted Ma to force you to take out any unauthorized equipment. But in return, her friendly linemen made house calls day or night, maintaining telephones and wiring at no extra charge.

Then suddenly came divestiture, and we had to own our own telephones—including a one-time chance to buy modernized versions of our installed Western Electric phones. In addition we had to have our home wiring systems "modularized" so that phones could be plugged in and disconnected easily. Then we had to "vote" on a long-distance carrier—remember that?

Now, of course, you can buy telephones in every color, and shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle or Mickey Mouse or a duck that quacks instead of rings—say nothing of cordless phones, answering machines, faxes, and modems that let computers talk to each other over the phone lines.

But in front of every silver lining there's a cloud. When she self-destructed, Ma Bell abandoned the industrial-strength wiring that she'd installed in your home (maybe almost 100 years ago). It's yours to keep (and to maintain), like it or not. You can either hire an electrician or phone company lineman to modify or repair your home phone system.

Or, if you are even remotely handy with a screwdriver and pliers, you can do everything telephonic inside your own home. If you like, you can run phone lines to every room in the house, out to the barn, the milk shed, and the outhouse. You can hook up a home office that will communicate around the globe via phone lines. And, you will soon be able to purchase Ma Bell cable television sent at microwave frequencies over the phone lines. The only restriction is that your outgoing signal must conform to your phone company's standards.

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