When I started at Qwest (now CenturyLink) in 1993 there really wasn’t an internet. In fact, I went through eleven weeks of training and we never discussed data transmission. The only thing we were trained on during those eleven weeks was business and residential phone service.
Soon after I started, we began to receive calls from ISP’s placing multiple phone line orders. This was a good call to receive because it meant you usually made your daily revenue goal on just one phone call. Unfortunately, many of these orders were placed at the person’s residence and typically there weren’t that many lines available, so the orders would go held. A held order could take anywhere from a month to a year to complete.
This was the time of dial up. Working for Qwest there were a few common complaints you would hear on a regular basis. One was from a customer unhappy with the speed of his dial up connection. Another complaint was from an ISP unhappy with the length of time it was taking to have their lines installed. A third was from an unhappy customer who was looking at a phone bill in the hundreds of dollars. They believed that since their dial up provider was offering their service for a flat fee, they wouldn’t experience any other charges. But the calls they were making to connect weren’t local and they had hundreds of minutes of long distance charges on their bill, and this was when long distance wasn’t cheap.
The internet, this potentially great thing, was bumming everyone out. It was slow, there were busy signals, few people had access to it and if you were on the internet at home, no one else could use the phone.
To speed things up people started buying 56k modems, but they would be lucky to receive 28.8k on their phone line. With the internet, you’re only as fast as your slowest connection and there were a lot of bottlenecks.
ISDN was the first “high speed” service we sold at Qwest and it only offered 128k. ISDN lines were primarily used by the radio industry but they were digital and their transmission rates were faster and more reliable than analog phone lines. They also offered the first version of “dynamic” bandwidth because they could be set up to receive a call, even if you were online. There were two channels, each 64k, and you could transmit at 128k and then drop down to 64k to receive a phone call. When your call was finished, you’d jump back up to 128k.
ISDN lines took forever to install; at least they were for Qwest. They also required you to find an ISP that offered ISDN connectivity. It seemed like every new technology back then brought on another customer service issue.
If the 128k that ISDN offered wasn’t sufficient, your other options were Frame Relay and T1. Those services were very expensive, hundreds to thousands of dollars per month, so few people could afford them. I do remember placing a frame relay order to be installed at the home of an executive for Microsoft. That was the kind of person who could afford frame relay, executives of super successful companies.
One of the irritating calls you would receive back then was from some guy asking for a T3. It would be some techy wanting faster internet at home, who you knew could never afford the service, but still insisted on a price quote.
When DSL became available, I thought I got a new job. Instead of placing orders for phone service, I spent my days informing people that they didn’t qualify for DSL. The distance limitation was one issue. If you couldn’t throw a stone at the Phone Company’s wire center, you were out of luck. Pair Gain was the other issue. It was sort of ironic really. The demand for phone lines increased because people wanted second lines to reach the internet. Qwest had to use Pair Gain to make more lines available. DSL was made unavailable by the presence of Pair Gain.
Cable internet was the other form of “high speed” service. The cable companies, like Time Warner, must have had their own issues because the demand for DSL was incredible. If you could get DSL you were looking at 256k. When I tested a line for the availability of DSL and 768k showed up on my computer screen, I thought it was a mistake. Achieving that speed back then was like winning the lottery.
Now a days, people are receiving 20 Mbps to their homes and paying less money per month than people used to pay for a second phone line. Today, the speeds are so great at home that your average work connection seems pedestrian.
In less than twenty years, home phone lines are becoming extinct and an entire generation has never experienced the sound of a phone modem connecting to a dial up service. Who knows, maybe in the next twenty years we’ll be complaining about the speed of teleportation?
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