As I pulled the plug a couple days ago I reflected on the recent comment that mentioned the "ethics-free competition of capitalism". In my lifetime, telephone service has evolved from a "natural monopoly" with a single supplier and limited choice to a vibrant competitive marketplace with a wide variety of service options and prices suitable for nearly everybody. Lots of telephone operators and others lost their jobs, but many more new jobs were created, and, best of all, consumers now have tremendous communications opportunities at reasonable prices.
THE OLDEN DAYS OF MONOPOLY
When I was young, we did not even have a telephone in our Brooklyn apartment. My parents made calls from pay phones. Incoming calls came to the candy store on our block and a kid would be dispatched to fetch us. When we finally got our own phone it was used almost exclusively for local calls because long distance was so expensive. Early in our married life we had a farm in a rural area of New York and experienced the joys of a four-party line.
I remember when the monopoly phone company would not even allow you to connect a "Brand X" phone to their lines because it might "disrupt" service to others - a "phone-y" excuse as we now know. Like all monopolies, the local phone companies provided minimum service, with little efficiency, and used inane "public service" excuses to keep competition out.
THE MODERN ERA OF COMPETITION
Well, along came cell phones, with multiple companies competing against each other and against landline phones. Some of our friends cut their landlines at that point. Then, with the advent of the Internet, and broadband connectivity to most households, along came Internet phone service. More and more of us are cutting our landlines, getting better service at lower prices.
We selected T-Mobile@home because we have T-Mobile cell phones and it is available for only $10/month plus tax and fees (a few bucks, we are not sure yet). Advantages: 1) You get to keep your old landline phone number, 2) all the existing phones in your home ring and can be used to make calls, 3) Your computer does not have to be on to receive or make calls, 4) The speed and voice quality are as good or better than a landline phone, 5) You can use your old answering machine and/or let the T-Mobile system record your voice mail, 6) Unlimited national long-distance is included, 7) Caller ID is included, 8) Call Waiting is included, 9) Call Forwarding is included., and 10) 911 works to alert emergency services to our home address.
We normally leave our old answering machine on and it intercepts and records voicemail normally. When we are away we can turn our old answering machine off and calls will be answered by T-Mobile voice mail -or- we can forward them so any calls to our home phone will ring on one of our cell phones. The only disadvantage of T-Mobile@home is that it fails if the electricity goes down (but that was the case already since all our phones are wireless and the base units need electricity to work) or if the Internet goes down (in which case we can use our cell phones.)
Our local phone bill, with Caller ID but no long-distance or Call Waiting or Call Forwarding, was over $37/month. We expect to save about $25/month once we recover the one-time $35 access fee and $50 wireless router fee.
There are many other Internet phone options if you have broadband service. They range from free to about $25 plus taxes and fees. If you are willing to leave your computer on to receive or make calls, you can sign up for services like Skype for free and make voice and video calls to others, WorldWide, who also have Skype and have mutually registered. Something called Magic Jack costs about $20/year and allows calls to be made and received nationally like a regular home phone. Services like Vonage cost about $25 plus tax and fees and appear to be similar to T-Mobile@home except you do not have to be a T-Mobile customer to qualify.
I expect other cell phone companies will be forced by the competition to offer $10/month home phone via Internet service. However, many cell phone companies are also in the landline business and will be reluctant to do so.
The main purpose of this posting is not to "sell" T-Mobile@home, although I certainly recommend it. My purpose is to counteract the media-sponsored idea that competition is somehow evil.
Fair competition - even the "cut-throat" variety - with government serving only to police standards and fair advertising and contracts, is far more responsive to consumers, and more efficient, than monopolies can ever be. Something that is now said to be a "natural monopoly" may, due to technology advances, no longer be so "natural". Beware of claims by monopolies that they are "protecting the public" or "assuring service to poor people or to rural people" or "protecting American jobs", etc. They are usually self-serving, anti-competitive, and, over the long run, bad for everybody, especially the poor and disadvantaged.