Telecoms 1984: Orwellian troubleshooting

* Remembering post-divestiture blues

Last time, we discussed the impact of the partial reassembly of Ma Bell. In particular, we mentioned Steve’s work at the time in operations for the University of North Carolina system and the impact on getting problems resolved.

One instance in particular still stands out. In early 1984, one of the remote institutions was having problems. We isolated the problem to be somewhere in Charlotte but it was unclear whether the issue was in the Southern Bell of the AT&T portion of the line. In 1983, we could have simply called “the phone company” and it would have (eventually) resolved the problem. In this case, though, both entities were, as the traditional phrase goes, insisting “the trouble is leaving here fine.”

Steve asked why they couldn’t just talk to each other and solve the (expletive deleted) problem. At that point, he learned after talking to the supervisors (separately) for both Southern Bell and AT&T that the two supervisors knew each other, were in the same office, and, in fact had almost adjacent desks. However, in order to comply with regulations, there was a red line painted down the middle of the floor and they could not cross it to chat about the problem. They also could not call each other. The only way that we could get the problem resolved was for the customer (Steve) to initiate a conference call to both parties.

Over the years, we all have our share of stories, like whether doing ATM to frame relay interworking was legal because it was “protocol conversion.”

Overall, we believe that the introduction of fierce competition was positive, and we’re light months – if not light years – ahead of where we could have dreamed of being in terms of fundamental technology development and service availability had divestiture never occurred.

But we’d like to hear from you. What happened, how did you survive, and what do you see coming down the road as we have more “convergence” of existing service providers?

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