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[ NNSquad ] Re: Only ATT can('t)

On Aug 26, 2011, at 10:48 PM, Bob Frankston wrote:

> Actually this is an interesting point because even if you connected your own
> equipment only ATT's could pass the signal since the pulse dials would not
> make it end to end.
> This changed radically with touch tone signaling in ways ATT could not
> anticipate since with TT you could signal end to end. It made it possible to
> dial an access number and then dial another number. There was some thought
> given to blocking those signals.

It's always been my contention that, *from the point of view of AT&T
the monopoly*, support for touch tone dialing was the worst decision
they ever made - and that touch tone dialing as a technology is the
ultimate example of a research effort that delivers value to everyone
except the inventor.

Without TT, MCI's LD bypass business could never have gotten started.
Without the existence a clearly successful business based on an
independent LD network, it would have been very difficult to counter
AT&T's argument that LD service was a natural monopoly based on
specialized technology that only AT&T could provide.

AT&T would probably have been broken up eventually, but it would
likely have taken many more years.

BTW, it's interesting to see how the Telco's have managed to turn back
the clock in many ways.  Until Carterphone, only AT&T equipment could
be connected to AT&T lines.  Even after Carterphone, theoretically you
needed to use an AT&T-provided network access device between your
electronics and AT&T's lines.  And what do we have in cellular
networks today?  Only carrier-approved cell phones can be used on the
carrier's frequencies.

More specifically, AT&T charged you *per instrument*.  If you wanted
an extension, they were happy to install one for you - and charge you
per month.  We finally got out from under that regime.  But ... that's
exactly the setup for cellular lines.  We pay per instrument.  Why
can't I have multiple cell phones on the same "line" - perhaps with a
restriction like "only one conversation at at time"?  The technology
may not permit it ... but it *could* have.  (Of course, AT&T argued
back in the old days that adding extensions required some special
technical skills - and indeed the old ringers limited you to maybe 3
extensions before something special needed to be done to provide
sufficient power to ring all the bells.)  This is particularly obvious
and galling today when the carriers require a separately-charged
"line" for every phone, pad, computer, and so on.  (They and the cable
companies tried that for wired Internet access, but it didn't take -
the precedent for phones was already too well established.  For
wireless access, the precedent went the other way - and they succeeded
in silently returning us to days we through were bygone.)

    [ Bypass could have happened without Touch Tone (TM), but it would
      have been more of a hassle.  The main benefit was providing the
      DTMF tone standard (not to be confused with the long distance
      "blue box" MF tone pairs).  In the days before Touch Tone phones
      were ubiquitous, it was not uncommon to carry a small portable
      (completely legal!) Touch Tone generating box (known in phone
      phreak tradecraft circles as a "white box") to "dial through"
      remote access services such as MCI Execunet and others).  Even
      in the absence of the DTMF standard, ad hoc tone signaling
      systems could have been deployed -- by that time acoustic
      coupling was legal in the U.S.  But in practice the standard is
      indeed what let everything really take off.

      One note on ringers -- the ability to fire mechanical ringers
      was (and still is) largely dependent on distance from the
      central office or other termination point -- much like DSL
      speeds today.  I knew people who ran a dozen or more standard
      mechanical ringers on a single standard line without any
      problems -- other than AT&T harrassing them for "illegal"
      extensions from time to time -- and some neon bulbs took care of
      that (AT&T could normally "count" extensions by remotely
      measuring the total load they presented across the line).
      Ringing current itself (90volts @ 20Hz A.C., typically) can give
      you a pretty good jolt.  Ouch.

        -- Lauren Weinstein
           NNSquad Moderator ]