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  History of the Bells
see also   Who are the Baby Bells? Map of the Baby Bells
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(From "$200 Billion Broadband Scandal", January 2006), Updated August 2012.

  • AT&T — SBC, Southwestern Bell, Pacific Telesis, Ameritech, SNET, AT&T, BellSouth
  • Verizon — Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, GTE, MCI, Alltel
  • CenturyLink— Formerly CenturyTel and Qwest, formerly US West.

They put Humpty Dumpty Back together again -- and it is to the detriment of competition, broadband and the US economy.

For over 100 years, Ma Bell, sometimes called the "Bell System" sometimes called "AT&T", controlled almost all telecommunications in the US. Once the largest company in the world with over one million employees, the company consisted of 22 local Bell companies, (including New York Telephone and Ohio Bell), AT&T Long Lines, (the long distance division) as well as Western Electric, (the subsidiary that manufactured telephone equipment) and Bell Labs, one of the premier research organizations.

Then in 1984, because of the monopoly control the company had over phone service, the company was broken-up and the local Bell phone companies were divvied up among seven, artificially created, very large companies called "Regional Bell Operating Companies" (RBOCs, pronounced "R-BOKS") or sometimes the "Regional Bell Holding Companies" (RHC) and sometimes the "Baby Bells".

Each company controls specific geographic regions of the US. For example, Ameritech controlled a five-state region: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

This diagram gives the original Baby Bells, the phone company(s) it controlled, and the state(s)

The original seven RBOCs were:

  • Ameritech
  • Bell Atlantic
  • BellSouth
  • Pacific Telesis
  • Southwestern Bell
  • US West
Today, because of numerous mergers, there are only 3 Companies:
  • AT&T was purchased by SBC Communications, which owned Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell, Ameritech, SNET, BellSouth and AT&T, the long distance company. SBC changed its name to 'at&t" (lower case.)
  • Verizon, which owned Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, and GTE and bought MCI, the former long distance company.
  • CenturyLink merged with Qwest, formerly US West
However, there is mass confusion on the part of the customers, not only because of these mergers, but also because of the various name changes.
What's in a Name? Renaming the Local Phone Companies

Over the last seven years, all of the holding companies removed the local Bell name for the name of the holding company.

  • New York Telephone became NYNEX, then Bell Atlantic and the Verizon.
  • Ohio Bell, Indiana Bell, Wisconsin Bell, Michigan Bell and Illinois Bell were all renamed "Ameritech".
Hundreds of Companies with RBOC Name

The holding companies own literally hundreds of other companies, each with their name-brand.For example, here are just a few of the NYNEX companies:

  • Verizon Online
  • Verizon Wireless (which is really a company called "cellco" and owned by Verizon and Vodafone)
  • Verizon Enterprise Solutions
  • Verizon Business
Two Bell Companies Escaped
  Cincinnati Bell and Southern New England Telephone (SNET) were both spun off after the break-up. However, SNET was acquired by SBC Communications.
Other Local Companies
  There were over 1,400 other local phone companies in 1984, including United/Sprint (renamed Embarq), Lincoln Telephone or Rochester Telephone (renamed Frontier). However, the number of independent companies has been diminishing For example, GTE was the largest independent and was the size of one of the original Bell companies. It was also a holding company, owning numerous local telephone properties throughout the US, from California to Virginia. As mentioned earlier, it is now part of Verizon.
Thousands of Other Telephone Companies
  There are literally thousands of communications companies, and their relationships and services they offer are at best, fuzzy to the general public. Here's the basics:
How Did Long Distance, AT&T and MCI, Fit into this Equation?

Originally, the Bell companies were excluded from offering long distance service. — a "Long Distance" phone call crosses state lines. A call from New York to New Jersey or from Texas to Arkansas is a long distance call.

AT&T, MCI and Sprint were the largest long distance companies in the 1990’s. In 1996, the Telecom Act of 1996 formally opened the “Public Switched Telephone Networks” (PSTN), the local phone networks, to competition. The long distance companies started to enter the local markets. Meanwhile, the Telecom Act also allowed the Bell companies to enter long distance once the networks were officially “open”.

Because of seriously flawed regulations and the power of the Bell companies to control the regulatory environment, the long distance companies were forced out of local service. Renting the local phone lines became unprofitable. Meanwhile, by 2005, the Bell companies have been able to garner over 60% of the long distance market because they could upsell local and long distance as a package.

In the "Unauthorized Bio of the Baby Bells" we argued that the Bells should never have been allowed into long distance services until there was stable competition. AT&T and MCI are currently sold, and merged into SBC and Verizon, respectively. SBC has taken the AT&T name.

As we will discuss, local and long distance distinctions are blurring — it’s all just
electrons over wires or through the air. The companies that own the wires can block competition, either through bad legislation or "friendly regulators", who have essentially been bought off or have not bothered to enforce the laws on the books.

In 2005, Verizon purchased MCI. SBC purchased AT&T and is now called “AT&T”, thus killing off the 2 largest competitors. AT&T and Verizon no longer compete, except with wireless services.

Other Important Distinctions: Local Competitors

CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Companies)

There was another group of companies referred to as Competitive Local Exchange Companies (CLECs) , who also offer local telephone service. . Some companies have their own installations, while other rented the networks from the Bell companies. Most companies only offered local business services in selected area codes in America. However, because of seriously flawed FCC regulations, most of these companies were put out of business.

  D-LECS and B-LECs

There are other types of local competitors: For example, the D-LECs (shorthand for Data-CLEC) offer primarily data or DSL services, such as Covad , while the B-LECs (shorthand for Building-CLEC) offer services by wiring buildings, such as ARC. Most of these companies were also put out of business because of flawed FCC regulations.

Verizon's FiOS and AT&T's U-Verse

in 2004, AT&T and Verizon announced plans to roll out cable/broadband services. Verizon has deployed FiOS, a fiber-to-the-home service, while AT&T rolled out U-Verse, a service that relys on the old copper wiring.

As of 2010, the companies both claimed that they were no long expanding their deployments of FiOS or U-Verse, having reached about 50% of their customers.

Other Important Distinctions: Wireless


"Wireless," "PCS", "Cellular" "Wifi"

There are hundreds of other companies who offer a wide array of non-wireline services, such as the wireless, wifi, PCS, or cellular companies.However, over the last decade, there has been a serious consolidation of these companies and today, Verizon and AT&T are the largest wireless companies.

Originally, the Bell companies were given the wireless spectrum for all of their territories -- for free. However, by the 1990's the companies were able to merge.

  • Bell South and SBC formed "Cingular", which was renamed "AT&T once the company aquired AT&T wireless,
  • Bell Atlantic and NYNEX spun off their wireless services to become "Verizon Wireless"
  • But there were many other deals to build these companies, which should be thought of as playing cards being maneuvered.

In it's wisdom, originally there was only 1 competitor allowed to the phone companies in each market, and the other players of note were McCaw, and Sprint-Nextel and T-Mobile.

Today, Verizon and AT&T have about 80% of the marketplace and as of this writing, Verizon has offered to purchase many of the cable companies' wireless spectrum, which they purchase but never fully deployed.


Wi-Fi and Municipality Community Buildouts.

Over the last few years, a number of municipalities have decided to now wait for the Bell companies to deliver and have created new community networks using both fiber optic cables as well as wireless services, known as "Wi-Fi"


VOIP, "Voice Over the Internet Protocol" Services

A host of companies have started to offer "VOIP", Voice Over the Internet Protocol, which uses a broadband connection and the standard Internet protocols "IP", to offer voice and data services.

VOIP is a technolofy as much as it is a service and many of the traditional voice services, when offered in a package, are using VOIP.

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