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Dr. Ralph R. Chase West Texas Collection

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1990 and Beyond - What Will The Future Bring?

Evolution of the Telephone Industry

After the invention of the telephone, the Bell system expanded quickly across the nation but without covering the whole country. Bell mainly provided service in metropolitan areas because they were more profitable and the easiest to serve. Independent telephone companies developed to serve suburban and rural districts or less densely populated areas. The independents wound up with the less-profitable areas where customers were fewer and farther apart. The Bell system had most of the telephone market in the country, especially long-distance traffic.

In the early days of the telephone industry, there was so much competition that telephone service bordered on chaos. There were often two or three telephone companies in the same town. If you didn’t subscribe to the same company as a friend down the street, neither of you could call the other. There were two or three sets of poles and wires running down the street. That’s what brought the government into the picture in the first place as the regulator of the telephone industry. It brought order out of chaos, established franchised territories, and injected some degree of fairness and equity into the rate structure.

In 1980 the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) made an important decision. It decided AT&T needed to separate its local and long-distance services. As a result, the Bell system divested itself. AT&T kept the long distance part of the business, its research organization, and its manufacturing operations. On January 1, 1984, AT&T operating company was divided into seven large regional companies, known as “Baby Bells”.

There are fewer telephone companies around today. In 1914, the state of Texas had some 529 telephone companies; at the beginning of 1990, there were 60. Consolidations and mergers have greatly reduced the number of companies, even as the numbers of customers served has continued to grow.

Weathering the Storm: Wind, Ice, and Rain

The weather has had serious effects on communications since the beginning of telecommunications; it didn’t matter if it was wind, rain, flood, tornadoes or ice. Many in the telephone industry have always considered the restoration of service after a weather event a success story. Sandstorms of the 1930s reeked havoc on telephone lines. Sandstorms generated so much static on telephone lines that long-distance conversations were often impossible.

Flood Water has serious effects on telephone service as was apparent in September 1936 when the Concho River in San Angelo flooded. Debris, including houses swept from their foundations, floated down the main channel of the river and piled up against the Chadbourne Street Bridge. This caused the river to back up into the downtown area and threatened the Central Office of the San Angelo Telephone Company.

Telephone crews sandbagged the building and equipment inside against the rising water. Batteries were kept charged with portable generators since all commercial electrical power had been lost. Workers laid off because of the Depression were called back into work. The flood caused 75% of the telephones in San Angelo to be out of order due to wet or broken cables and washed out poles. Service was restored in five working days.

Underground cables that had been installed by John Rust in the 1920s were flooded and destroyed. Telephone crews gathered as much equipment as they could find. They spent three weeks working 14-18 hour days repairing the damage.

1950s Ice Storm Long distance lines were severely affected in 1949 when Texas experienced a severe ice storm. Lines were coated with ice throughout Texas and into New Mexico. Telephone poles and wires were breaking faster than they could be replaced. The freezing drizzle continued for six weeks. The rain coated the wire with ice, which melted slightly and then refroze until the load of ice was several inches thick. Poles and lines tumbled to the ground under the weight. Miles and miles of telephone line and poles had to be replaced. It was weeks before normal service was restored.

1953 Lakeview Tornado In 1953 the Lakeview subdivision of San Angelo was struck by a severe tornado. The tornado hit the local high school and left a half-mile wide swath of destruction four to five blocks long. Installers and trouble-shooters immediately began setting up temporary service and repairing lines for the Associated Press and for relief agencies moving into the area. The tangled mass of wires, poles, and cables was removed from the streets. Six thousand of the 18,000 phones in service in San Angelo were silenced. Some two hundred phones were blown away and destroyed. Operators and other telephone workers had to deal with the flood of emergency calls. Service was restored and facilities rebuilt.

GTE + Bell Atlantic = Verizon

The history of GTE Southwest (GTESW) officially began in 1926, some fifty years after the beginning of the United State telephone industry. GTESW was formed from many small telephone companies put together at different times. GTE acquired the San Angelo Telephone Company in 1953. The company president wanted a central Texas location for the headquarters of General Telephone Company of the Southwest. The headquarters had been moved to Dallas from Lubbock in 1949, even though the company’s service areas were predominately in the western and southwestern portions of the state. After the acquisition of the San Angelo Company, the headquarters of the General Telephone of the Southwest moved into a newly constructed general office building in San Angelo. San Angelo remained a significant part of the GTE company.

GTE became the company symbol in January 1971. The new symbol was clean and set in a typeface specially designed for the company and placed inside a rounded rectangle.

In the fall of 1977, a new slogan was created to reflect that gee-whiz feeling: “Gee! No, GTE!” The slogan also worked well with the new technology that GTE was creating and working with.

In June of 2000, the federal government approved an $80 billion merger between GTE Corporation and Bell Atlantic. The two companies merged together to become Verizon communications.

The new name of the company, Verizon, was selected from more than 8,500 names. The new name comes from the Latin word “veritas,” which means truth and also connotes certainty and reliability, and “horizon,” which signifies the possibilities ahead.

Wireless Phones, Internet…

Wireless allows people to be completely mobile. They can be reached anywhere in the car, supermarket or hair salon. Phones can do things that people couldn’t even imagine 25 or 50 years ago. Users can use their phone as a web browser, a calculator or calendar. Gone are the days when telephone technology stayed in place for twenty years or more. The pace has quickened and changes have come fast.

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