Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A story for Epiphany

Once upon a time there was the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, AT&T, or Ma Bell to you, and within Ma Bell there could be found Bell Labs (her research and development arm), Western Electric Co. (her manufacturing arm), and lots of little Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) (her legs for getting telephones to and collecting lots of money from the general public), 24 to be exact, including two that were wholly owned subsidiaries:

1. New England Telephone
2. Southern New England Telephone (wholly-owned subsidiary #1)
3. New York Telephone
4. New Jersey Bell
5. Bell of Pennsylvania
6. Diamond State Telephone (Delaware to you)
7. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of Maryland
8. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of West Virginia
9. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of Virginia
10. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of Washington, D.C.
11. Southern Bell
12. South Central Bell
13. Ohio Bell
14. Cincinnati Bell (wholly-owned subsidiary #2)
15. Indiana Bell
16. Michigan Bell
17. Illinois Bell
18. Wisconsin Bell
19. Northwestern Bell
20. Southwestern Bell
21. Mountain Bell
22. Nevada Bell
23. Pacific Bell
24. Pacific Northwest Bell

There were lots of other telephone companies too, like giant General Telephone and itty-bitty Blue Ridge Telephone Company and others scattered all over the country, but they were independent and had nothing to do with Ma Bell, AT&T, or the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

But the big, bad Federal Government said to AT&T, “No, no, no, you are a monopoly and you must divest yourselves of all of those operating companies on January 1, 1984.” So AT&T, Ma Bell to you, looked into her open grave and said, “Children, it is time to stand on your own two, er, 48 feet, sort of.” And even though Ma Bell kept her research and development arm (Bell Labs) and her manufacturing arm (Western Electric Co., though its name had been changed to AT&T Technologies), she gave away her 24 children to seven umbrella companies called Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), and Ma Bell was no more. Some of the RBOCs thrived and their stock soared and some of the RBOCs slowly went down the tubes. The seven RBOCs were:

1. NYNEX (NY for New York and NE for New England and X for eXchanges)
2. Bell Atlantic
3. BellSouth
4. Ameritech
5. SBC Communications (S for Southwestern and B for Bell)
6. U.S. West
7. Pacific Telesis

One of the RBOCs, Southwestern Bell, retained its old identity through the transition and continued performing one of its primary functions, producing and distributing the yellow pages.

Years went by. AT&T opened PhoneCenter stores all over the country, and then decided to close them. Cellphones were invented. In 1995, Bell Labs and Western Electric (though its name had been changed again, first to AT&T Information Systems and then to AT&T Network Systems) were spun off into a new company, Lucent Technologies, and began interacting with such entities as AT&T-BCS (Business Communications Systems) and AT&T-GBS (General Business Systems) and AT&T-LBS (Large Business Systems) and AT&T-GBCS (whatever). More name changes occurred and rival companies called MCI and Verizon and Sprint and Vonage and Skype and magicJack sprang up and flourished, or not, with ever cheaper and ever more lightweight plastic throwaway phones. Southwestern Bell began a joint venture with BellSouth called Cingular to market cellphones, eventually BellSouth was swallowed up by Southwestern Bell, and the name Cingular eventually changed to AT&T Mobility. AT&T opened up retail stores again but didn’t call them PhoneCenters. The more things changed, the more they seemed to remain the same.

The RBOCs merged and expanded and changed shape and AT&T decided to get out of the telephone manufacturing business altogether. Southwestern Bell bought AT&T, changing its own name to AT&T in the process, and moved the new AT&T’s headquarters from New Jersey, where it had been that state’s largest employer, to San Antonio, Texas, and then to Dallas, Texas, from whence it shall come to judge the quick and the dead. No, wait, that’s something else. Lucent Technologies, which had been Western Electric Co. long ago, and then AT&T Technologies, and then AT&T Information Systems, and then AT&T Network Systems, disappeared into was bought by a giant telecommunication company in France named Alcatel and moved its headquarters to Paris.

There is no end to this story; it will go on and on, and no one knows whether the new AT&T, which is for all intents and purposes really the old Southwestern Bell, will live happily ever after, but the moral of this story on this Epiphany is this:

Some men are so busy following their own stars and making money and inventing gadgets and being entrepreneurial that they no longer have time to seek Him, but wise men still do.

[Full disclosure: I went to work for Western Electric Co. on Feb. 25, 1980, and retired from Lucent Technologies on March 1, 2000. My monthly pension is currently paid by Alcatel-Lucent.]


  1. Can't resist a little editorial nudge about this...

    New England Telehone

    It happens to us all!

  2. Caroline, is your "Aha!" at the moral or at the full disclosure?

    jinksy, thanks, it has been corrected! [hangs head in shame]

  3. Ah, the good old days. Is the sum of the parts equal to, greater, or lesser than the whole?

  4. Pat, I read in Wikipedia that the new AT&T has reunited eleven of the original 24 Bell Operating Companies.

  5. Wow. I'm impressed how you connected that with Epiphany. My stepdad worked all his life, except for his 4 years in the Army, at the telephone company, whatever its name over the years. So did my husband's Aunt. (My word verification is mangers. Kinda appropriate).

  6. oh my, you just made my head spin around a few times - thanks! :)

  7. All of that for a short word from our real sponsor. Well done.

  8. I never know which posts of mine will generate more comments than usual and which won't. This seems to be one of the good ones.

    Rosezilla (Tracie), I thought it was rather clever myself. It all came to me in a flash, or maybe in an epiphany.

    Daisy, I'm sure it was all that ice-cold Canadian air whirling around up there in the frozen north, not me, that made your head spin around!

    Dr. John, a "Well done" from you is like a freezer of home-made peach ice cream at a picnic: it makes the picnic even better.

  9. Stopped by to thank you for the comment you left on my blog today.
    I wish I had caught the shift in the Science Religion but I'm glad you called it to my attention.

  10. Epiphany..the twelfth day of birthday. My parents almost named me Gaspar or Balthasar. I'm glad they reconsidered. Melchior would have been even worse...
    So other than the breakup and reuniting of Ma Bell, what is the Epiphany angle??

  11. Sam,, thanks for stopping by. The angle is in the moral. What precedes it is merely evidence and/or a horrible example. I knew a lot of those wise men and not-so-wise men personally. I guess you have to read between the lines.

  12. P.S. - In some countries, Epiphany is also the Feast of the Three Kings, the day when the wise men from the East traditionally entered the house (not stable) and found the young child Jesus.