The two readings for today covered the telephone. The Frahm article covers the role played by women operating American phone systems during the first world war, and the David article discusses the telephone monopoly of AT&T and its implications on the industry.

The Frahm article gives an in-depth look at why the United States sent their women overseas to run their phone lines during WWI. These women were privy to state secrets and often were sometimes within bombardment range on the front lines of the war. With native French women unable to speak English, and the American soldiers unable to effectively operate the phone boards, the government turned to female operators from the US and brought over several hundred women to work the lines. As a whole, these girls were white, relatively well educated, young and employed. The ability to speak French was critical, as was experience on a phone board, but many women were brought over solely for their lingual skills and trained on the job. Compared to many of the other women in positions such as nursing, they were relatively young, but as Frahm points out, they were often also overseen by supervising older women in order to maintain good behavior. The value of these operators for the war effort cannot be underscored, because telephone lines were so critical to coordinating allied operations during WWI. Losing communication lines could spell disaster if logistic networks were compromised, and so these women were crucial components in keeping the military functioning.

Switching gears to the domestic and business side of the phone, David discusses the business model of AT&T and how the company often came under fire for predatory practices, although as he points out, charges were never pressed against the company. Many of the practices used mirror those of other monopolists of the era, such as John D. Rockefeller, primarily slashing prices well below their market value as a means of driving out competition from the marketplace. This approach proved highly successful, securing AT&T a commanding share of the market, and also a healthy return of 46% for their investors. While David does admit these models can have benefits for the consumer, at least in the short term, over time the over-dominance of a company becomes highly detrimental, and allows a company to provide subpar service. As AT&T itself admits, they lost out on a great deal of market share simply because they were not providing sufficient quality of service or coverage.

Phoning in the Telephone- Thursday Readings

One thought on “Phoning in the Telephone- Thursday Readings

  • Within your discussion of the article about AT&T, I liked how you pointed out that over time, customers did suffer because of AT&T’s predatory techniques. That was a very small point made in the article, but it is extremely important. Not only were independent companies being run out of business, but customers were also losing out by being given poorer quality service than what they could have been receiving.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *