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Carterfone Changes Our World.

No single individual name stands out as symbolic of the communications revolution of these two dramatic decades like that of Tom Carter . . . as in "The Carterfone Decision". For when Texan Tom Carter was refused permission by the telephone companies to connect the coupler he had invented to tie mobile phones to the telephone network in the early 1960's he made a federal case out of it . . . and he won!

In winning, Carter precipitated a dramatic change in the course of communications history in the United States. Communications people started to reckon time as "BC" and "AC" . . . "Before Carterfone" and "After Carterfone".

The FCC's June, 1968 "Carterfone Decision" was one of the most important and far-reaching in its consequences of any that body has made in its history. The "Carterfone Decision" clearly signaled the FCC's commitment to the "competition in the marketplace" philosphy which, just a year later, gave a green light to the specialized common carrier and, still later proclaimed an "open skies" policy for domestic satellite applicants.

In its "Carterfone Decision" in June, 1968 the FCC declared that the Carterfone could be attached to the telephone network and ordered the Bell System (and other telcos) to revise their tariffs to make such attachment possible.

In their decision, the FCC cited their earlier (1956) "Hush-A-Phone" decision and clearly stated that a subscriber's right to use the network in ways which are "privately beneficial without being public detrimental" extended to all types of equipment, including telephone terminal equipment.

The Bell System h ad filed a tariff in 1957 which provided that: "No equipment, apparatus, circuit or device not furnished by the Telephone Company shall be attached to or connected with the facilities furnished by the Telephone Company, whether physically, by induction or otherwise. . ."

"I started working on the Carterfone device as early as 1949," says Carter, "back in the days of the vacuum tube. I worked on it in my spare moments but ended up shelving it until 1958. By then it was easy, with the benefit of transistors. And there was a ready market and no need for elaborate promotion. We just showed up at oil company shows and started selling.

"I had followed the old Hush-A-Phone case for the seven years they fought that case. I had really thought that decision in 1956 had cleared the air. What I didn't know was that the FCC had merely shelved the court-ordered tariffs subsequently filed by AT&T. The commission had neither rejected nor accepted those tariffs when I filed with the FCC three years later. I just didn't believe anyone I wasn't harming had the right to tell me I couldn't be in business. As long as they failed to prove I was harming them, I knew I was still in the fight.

"While we could visualize what should be possible and how it could change the shape of the communications industry, our first thought, however, was for self preservation. We just were determined not to be driven out of business. Our support in the case was not broad at all. I approached a number of communications equipment manufacturers for financial support, but they were all afraid of jeopardizing current or potential Bell contracts."

But Carter continued his fight, virtually alone, and finally won. And the shock waves set off by this regulatory "bomb-shell" sent a numbing chill thru telephone people all across the nation even as it brought a glow of warmth to telephone equipment manufacturers both domestic and, especially, foreign.

Interconnection as we know it today did not truly become a reality until January 1969, when the Bell System revised its tariffs to allow the interconnection of privately owned equipment to the telephone network through "connecting arrangements." The Bell-required connecting arrangements . . . or "couplers" . . . Consisted of equipment only available from the telephone company at a substantial monthly charge. The telephone companies maintained that these arrangements technically were necessary for "network protection".

This telco foot-dragging continued for several years . . . in and out of the courts . . . and it was not until end of 1977 that the consumer's right to freely connect privately-owned and manufactured terminal equipment anywhere in the United States was firmly established.

The appeal of "interconnect", as the option to be called, was three-fold: first, communications cost savings; second, possible improvements in communications service (more features and more options); and third, greater compactness in equipment.

Early in the "interconnect" game, consultants suggested two "rules of thumb" for prospective buyers or leasers. "Your dollar savings over telephone company charges," they said, "must be 17 to 19 percent and you must see a return on your investment within five years."

A major reason many businesses, large and small, were anxious to "go interconnect" in the early seventies was to get system features not offered in equipment available from local telephone companies. Early in the game Communications News published a "Guide to the Interconnect Market" which contained a shopping list of 60 different service features . . . from "Abbreviated Dialing" to Wake-Up Service" . . . which were available in telephone systems offered by interconnect equipment suppliers. Stored program technology has made most of the exotic new services possible. And this "Guide" went through several reprintings.

And the third reason for "going interconnect" encompassed all the esthetic considerations . . . from equipment color and appearance to the major such consideration . . . space savings. Most interconnect PABX systems were electronic or cross-bar systems . . . and everything about them was more compact than older telephone company equipment. Consuming less floor space (when office space was very expensive) reduced a major business expense.

Early in 1973, at an ICA seminar on "Interconnect", one delegate, after listening to Bell and General Tel "rebitted", lettered a neatly printed sign which had on it nothing but that famous statement made by Admiral Yamamoto, Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on December 7, 1941 immediately after Pearl Harbor" (immortalized so dramatically in "Tora! Tora! Tora!"):

"I fear that all we have really done is awaken a sleeping giant."

This observer cast the interconnect industry in the role of the attacking Japanese (not bad casting!) and the "sleeping giant" as the United States telephone industry. And certainly one of the positive results of the FCC's "Carterfone Decision" was the aggressive response of the Bell System, General Tel and other progressive telephone companies. More and better new telco equipment soon began getting to the market faster than ever before.

Another observer at that meeting underscored the value of competition while taking a playful poke at "Ma Bell", saying, "The Mother of some improvements and new technologies in the communications industry may well be Bell but the Father of these new improvements and innovations is competition."

The fight which Tom Carter won has spawned a billion dollar industry, stimulated the formation of the new powerful North American Telephone Association, and literally changed the face of communications in the United States.

Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that the telephone companies would end up being anxious for you to own your own telephone equipment . . . actually operating "Phone Stores" to sell you that equipment?

Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that your Sears & Roebuck catalog and other mail order catalogs would offer page after page of telephones and attachments for you to select from and order?

Who would have thought, even just ten years ago, that "interconnect" would have more than 25 percent of the PBX market and nearly 20 percent of the key set market?

During the past decade the flowering of the interconnect market has surpassed even the rosiest predictions which made the "Carterfone Decision" one of the truly tremendous developments of CN's first "Dynamic Decade".

And what of Tom Carter? Now living in Gun Barrell, Texas, Tom Carter doesn't fit the image of the battler who scored a landmark victory against the largest corporate giant of them all, American Telephone and Telegraph. Dressed in cowboy boots and with his shirt open at the throat, Carter stares at an endless, cobalt blue sky and across open fields and says, "You know, it's been a great relief moving down here. We were beat, tired out. I think it has added 10 years to my life."

Carter now operates a small radio relay station for ambulance services in his community. He is proud of his full head of white hair and the healthy face that stares back from his mirror.

Actually, by the time the FCC issued its 1968 ruling that permitted the interconnection of any device that did not harm the telephone network, a policy far broader than anyone had dreamed, Carter, who says he "got a lot of moral support but not a dime of financial help," had sold his home and his ranch and watched his business dwindle from 100 employees to a single employee.

He filed a $1.35-million lawsuit against Bell, and reportedly received $375,000 to $500,000 in damages. But that did not offset his losses. He says most of the money went to his attorneys and he eventually wound up selling Carterfone.

But Carter harbors no bitterness from his long struggle. "It doesn't bother me," he says, "I'm happy it worked out the way it did. It was better for the consumers, for everybody."
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Sep 1, 1984
Previous Article:Electronic Switching Is 'In'.
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