The Freedom To Own A Telephone

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 31 2013 9:53 AM

The Freedom To Own A Telephone

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Western Electric Model 500 telephone.

Public domain photo

Kevin Drum's looking for examples of ways we've become more and less free over the decades in our everyday lives. One thing he misses is a change that happened when I was too young to appreciate it — you started being able to own your own telephone.

It used to be that if you wanted access to AT&T's network, you had a lease a phone from AT&T. After the breakup of the Ma Bell monopoly, that system became unviable. Instead of leasing a phone from a monopoly provider, you bought a phone on a competitive market, which was much cheaper and allowed for more diversity in phone styles and technologies. Every once in a while some oldster who never made the switch surfaces and we get a newspaper article about the change.

Today, Internet service providers try to run the same scam of exploiting their quasi-monopoly control of the network to try to entice you into overspending on leased equipment (cable modem and Wi-Fi router) that you could buy more cheaply on the competitive market. If I ran the FCC, I think I'd try to put a stop to that. But at a minimum, current regulations don't let Comcast force you to lease ancillary equipment from them.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.