Aren't telephones wonderful? That's a rhetorical question. Everyone who's been in the same room with one knows they are both good and evil at the same time. On the one hand, you may need to call your parents and ask for money -- or call 911 when you get your weenie caught in the vacuum cleaner hose while playing "Elsie and the milking machine." On the other hand, you may BE that parent that is being called for a touch. Or, you may have a parent calling YOU for help if you're as old as I am. But whether or not you enjoy the end result of picking up the telephone on any given occasion, it's pretty likely you will NOT enjoy the ordeal you will undoubtedly have to go through to get it there.

Once upon a time, we actually had pretty decent local phone service. There was only just the one company available (Illinois Bell) and they were pretty tightly regulated by the government. Service was pretty good, and the employees seemed to be mostly competent. They still did some weasely things - like selling "call packs" or renting customers $30 phones that lasted essentially forever for $7.50 per month. But, the phones worked, a live person would answer when you called with a problem and reverse questionable charges without much argument, repairs were made in a timely manner, the bills weren't too high, and they weren't too complicated.

Now, about all you can say to anyone trying to start, change, or stop phone service is "Good luck" and "I'll loan you some heroin to make it a little easier to get through the debacle." My experience tells me this: the deregulation of the communications industry has gone horribly wrong. When the long-distance company (that would be AT&T...) started to get competition, it almost seemed like a good thing. There was at least a promise of lower phone bills. In terms of current dollars vs. 1970 dollars we actually do seem to have lower long distance phone bills. And by "we", I mean everyone who hasn't been sucked into some damn-fool advertising scheme that signed them up for a really expensive deal - perhaps by some Alien Life Form. My observation is that the local phone company in this area (SBC [ Soiled By Cum?]Ameriturd©) just totally went to hell when it was acquired by SBC (Sonova Bitching Cocksuckers ?). Not that it hadn't degraded some before then, but that seemed to be the thing that really got the bitch pregnant. SBC (Snot Blowing Child?), being the responsible corporate weasels that they are, just had to save some corporate money so they could increase profitability. Of course, the very best way for a company to do this is to fire the older, more experienced, more knowledgeable, higher paid, employees and knock several million off the payroll. What a fine, smart idea! I guess that the dumbasses up in the corporate tower just forgot that the success of the entire company was based on skilled technical people. Not a bright idea at all to lay off the people most qualified for the work. Not a bright idea at all.

About the next thing to happen -- and this has pretty much become ubiquitous within practically all the phone companies (there are maybe a couple of exceptions) -- is that to further cut costs, they decided to eliminate the possibility of a customer actually being able to effectively communicate a problem to their communications company. Note the drip, drip, drip of heavy irony here. Not only can you not dial a number and speak to a living person that can help you (at least not without stepping through several automated menus and wasting several minutes), but even after you do somehow manage to get someone on the phone who claims they are able to help you, you cannot call back and speak to that same person to advise them the problem isn't yet fixed (and it probably won't be...) because you aren't allowed to know any individual employee's full name or phone number. This means you have to re-explain the entire situation all over again, to yet another fool that probably doesn't really understand what you are talking about - and doesn't seem to much care either. Talk about totally removing any slightest hint of accountability to the customer!

Now, SBC (Short But Cute?)Ameriturd© has an expensive ad campaign running touting that "one call does it all" or some such nonsense. The idea they are selling is that you can call them and have whatever you need done attended to with only one phone call. What a total load of crap! Here's another case where the advertising apparently has absolutely nothing to do with reality. All they are doing is attempting to modify the public perception of the company, not modify the actual performance of the company. I've already had personal experience with this more than once. And when I bust them on the "one call does it all" failure, it seems that only applies if you are able to dial up exactly the right secret phone number in the first place -- and probably not even then. And, of course, if the job doesn't get done right after one call (it probably won't...) you have essentially no chance of talking to the original person who screwed it up. You have to explain it all over again to someone else who will like as not screw it up again. Eventually, if you are lucky, you might speak to one of the few people remaining who actually knows what they are doing and the job will get done. When I drop dead from a stroke, check the phone records. Chances are pretty good that I just got off a call to some phone company attempting to correct a problem.

By the way, I'm not the only one who has noticed that something is seriously wrong at SBC (Same Bull Crap?) Ameriturd©. Last week, a consumer advocate group took out a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune (just imagine the cost...) pointing out that while SBC (Shit By Comparison?) Ameriturd© is on the one hand crying to the Illinois Commerce Commission that they need a big rate increase because they are forced to wholesale to other local carriers, they are simultaneously complaining at the stockholders meeting that they need new ideas to help figure out what to do with all the extra money they have from the huge profits they have been making.

You are thinking, "yeah, so what, everyone who has a telephone already knows all this." The point is: a serious and fundamental change needs to be made. In this information technology age, practically everyone depends on communications. And I'm not referring to the twinkette at the mall who is just soooo upset if she misses a call from her twinkette friend trying to tell her what the third twinkette said about what the fourth twinkette thinks about the first twinkette. (If you don't understand that sentence, you have never lived with a teenage girl.) I'm talking about serious, maybe life or death communications needs. It's getting so that practically everyone is dependent on the Internet for some phase of their business. Very likely the Internet comes into your business via a phone line of one sort or another. And, practically everyone has a cell phone or pager so they can be more successful in business. Many companies have moved toward just-in-time functions that absolutely depend on timely, reliable communications. What happens when the communications systems fall apart because of the mismanagement of technology done in the name of making more profit? A pure catastrophe, that's what.

How does this horrible situation get fixed, you ask. The solution is neither simple nor static. Changes in the communications industry are subject to an ongoing paradigm shift; away from wired phones sitting on a desk or table and towards wireless voice and text devices that go virtually everywhere with everyone. The problem seems to transcend the paradigm however. The "new" wireless communications companies are driven by the same forces that drive the "old" companies like SBC (Sturdy But Corpulent?) Ameriturd©. And, in fact, SBC (Standard Byproduct of Communism?) Ameriturd© is one of those new companies, operating through their wireless subsidiary: Cingular wireless. And shouldn't someone tell those knuckleheads that in this country singular is spelled with an "S"? Odd how the spelling of the company name seems, I don't know, maybe - Hispanic? Are they trying to make a particular segment of the population feel comfortable with them because of they way they spell their name? I don't know, but it annoys me every time I see the word "singular" misspelled. Makes me pretty certain I don't want to do business with a company that can't even pick up a dictionary before having letterhead printed up. I digress. The point I'm following here is that the wireless companies (and not just Cingular...) are proceeding to do the same bad things that the "wired" companies do - forgo good service and functionality for the sake of increased profits. The fix I propose? Revisit the legislation that "freed" the phone company, and make all telecommunications companies tightly regulated, and not-for-profit companies by law. Maybe even nonprofit.

How can I (a good capitalist...) possibly advocate such a thing in an open marketplace? It's pretty easy. I tend to place the telecommunications infrastructure in this country in the same category as the Army, Navy, Post office, etc. It's essential to our well-being as a country. And not only just for interior and exterior defense, but for the functioning of the economy. Imagine just how bad it would be if several of the main local and long-distance companies suddenly went out of business because they tried so hard to achieve good profitability against so many competitors, that they failed to retain sufficient quality employees to maintain the technology infrastructure. It's not all that far-fetched an idea. And, although the government would likely step in to try to alleviate the disaster, I personally think that the chances of being able to recover from a situation where several local exchange carriers folded at the same time are slim indeed. Even if one large company like SBC (Should Be Convicted?) that owns several local exchange carriers in several regions suddenly pulled an Enron and locked all its doors, it would be very, very bad.

I recommend to everyone that you communicate with your elected officials and convey to them your concerns and suggest that they again strongly regulate the telecommunications industry. You can send E-mail to your congresspersons here and your senators here.