It was 1974. We were deplaning in Bucharest, Romania. The red-carpeted path we followed to our official welcome was lined with armed soldiers. A familiar Sousa march was blaring over the loud speaker. We had already talked to officials in Ljubljana, Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. An associate and I were traveling through Eastern Europe exploring business possibilities on our way to Moscow to report on a Russian machine tool show, Stanki I. It was the U.S. machine tool industry's first venture in displaying its wares there. Needless to say, it was an eerie experience.
In many of the offices we visited the desks held two, three, or more phones--one for each line. All black. Their technology and system of telecommunicating was primitive at best. The office in Bucharest had five phones. I remember wondering at the time if they all worked, still shuddering at the frustration of trying to call home the day before from Budapest.
That memory came to me when I first read about the merger of AT&T and BellSouth Corp., again proving the adage, what comes around goes around. The move would reunite four of the seven so-called Baby Bell telephone companies created when the government ordered the dissolution of AT&T (aka Ma Bell) in 1984. Judge Green, after a lengthy court trial, ruled that the giant AT&T was stifling competition. Maybe so, but unlike the experience many of us suffered through for years while trying to communicate when we traveled through Europe, the system worked.
The breakup did spur the evolution of the cell phone system. There is no doubt we are talking more--talking while we are driving, flying, walking, jogging. The cell phone has become a traffic hazard, people talking rather than concentrating on their driving and, in turn, causing accidents. It has gotten so bad some states have outlawed phoning while driving.
The evolution of the cell phone, in spurring competition, has gone far beyond the traditional telephone business. Cell phones now compete with cameras, walkie-talkies, Xboxes and iPods, and fax machines and e-mailing computers. The final result will be a conglomeration of communication companies that will make the original AT&T seem like corner mom and pop store. Is the price you pay to make a call going to go down? Don't bet on it! Company executives avoided the questions during congressional hearings about...