Back When The Senate Tried To Ban Dial Telephones

from the a-series-of-tubes dept

With a group of Senators now looking to block various websites the Justice Department deems as "pirate," websites, it's worth taking a look back at how Senators can be rather silly in their rush to ban certain technologies, highlighting why it's generally not a good idea when politicians get involved in technology. The Nieman Journalism Lab points us to the news that, back in 1930, the Senate came close to banning dial telephones (where you dialed them yourself), preferring to have an operator do the connection instead. To the anti-dial Senators, it was seen as inappropriate to do the work of operators themselves. The resolution, which passed, read:
Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.
Now, it's true that the resolution only impacted the Senate -- but when another Senator asked why they didn't ban dial phones from all of Washington DC, Senator Carter Glass from Virginia who sponsored the resolution apparently said that "he hoped the phone company would take the hint," and would remove all dial phones.

While the resolution did pass, some younger Senators were apparently upset about it -- as they actually preferred to dial their own numbers, and put forth a resolution to let Senators choose which they wanted -- leading to a "compromise" where those who wanted dial phones could keep them, but those who wanted to have the operator handle the difficulty for them, could do so. As one Senator, Clarence Dill, noted in support of the ban:
In his experience, the dial phone "could not be more awkward than it is. One has to use both hands to dial; he must be in a position where there is good light, day or night, in order to see the number; and if he happens to turn the dial not quite far enough, then he gets a wrong connection."
Is it any wonder that some of us think that it's not a good idea for elected officials to determine the relative merits of technology?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 9:36am

    Somewhat buried lede

    "... when another Senator asked why they didn't ban dial phones from all of Washington DC, Senator Carter Glass from Virginia who sponsored the revolution apparently said that "he hoped the phone company would take the hint," and would remove all dial phones. "

    I'm amazed at the restraint they thought was appropriate.

     

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  2.  
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    DS, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 10:14am

    "Is it any wonder that some of us think that it's not a good idea for elected officials to determine the relative merits of anything?"

    FIFY

     

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  3.  
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    Overcast (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 10:15am

    Amazing waste of time and resources.

    Even my kids don't waste as much time arguing about doing dishes.

     

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  4.  
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    designerfx (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 10:19am

    Re:

    exactly.

    Considering the amount of regulatory capture to go with people being so lazy as to not even attempt to understand the issue they are legislating,

    I'd rather most legislators found people who knew what they were doing.

    This is an issue so direct that the public is pretty much not oblivious to it at all.

     

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  5.  
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    xs (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 10:49am

    Re: Somewhat buried lede

    If only today's politicians are as restrained in exercising their power as the politicians of the old were.

     

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  6.  
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    jonathan260 (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 11:14am

    Fast forward 40 years

    When the DoD had to upgrade its whole telephone network from dial to touchtone, it justified the whole cost based on the time savings for pushbutton versus dialing!

     

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  7.  
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    6 (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 12:55pm

    Mike I think you might want to take a look at your history books for what kind of "dial" telephones they were talking about at that time. Those things were a PAIN IN THE ARSE to use and I'm quite sure that a bunch of old senators would not want to use them if they could have an operator do it for them.

     

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  8.  
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    ComputerAddict (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 12:57pm

    "and put forth a resolution to let Senators choose which they wanted -- leading to a "compromise" where those who wanted dial phones could keep them, but those who wanted to have the operator handle the difficulty for them, could do so"

    So can we put forth a resolution that those that would like to keep using those sites that serve "no demonstrable non-infringing commercially significant purpose" can do so, and if a few senators want to live with restricted internet we can add those sites to their firewall rules?

     

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  9.  
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    Comboman (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 1:00pm

    Dialing for net neutrality

    Interestingly, the dial telephone was invented to get around the "net neutrality" issue of the late 19th century. Stroger, the guy who invented the dial telephone, was a Kansas City undertaker who was convinced that the local operator was directing calls intended for him to his competitor (who happened to be the operator's brother-in-law). Bell didn't adopt the system nationwide until 1924.

     

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  10.  
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    Joe Old, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 1:00pm

    Cranky old folks

    It's hard to read!
    It doesn't like the way I dial!
    I need both my hands to make the call!
    Eggs used to cost a penny a dozen!

    Even accounting for the fact the the first iterations of many technologies are difficult to use, restricting a tempermental, but otherwise safe technology is dumb.

    If we wait to progress until the reluctant are ready, then nothing will change.

     

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  11.  
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    Danny (profile), Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 4:16pm

    ...back when I used to call the White House on a regular basis

    I was a cloakroom page in Congress in 1974. One of our tasks in the cloakroom was to dial the phones for congressmen. We had a simple PBX system with a switchboard phone mapped to the phones in each of 13 phone booths. The congressman would hand the page at the switchboard a sheet of paper with a number on it, and walk into a phone booth. Then the page would dial the number, nod to the congressman who would pick up his/her extension and talk.

    Some, of course, dialed their own calls.

    Here's a recent photo I just found of the cloakroom I worked in. The page is sitting at the switchboard; the phone booths look the same. The door opens onto the back corner of the House floor. That flat panel screen wasn't there in '74 :-)

    Looks like pretty much the same place. Oh, and I believe the elevators still require operators so Congressmen and Senators don't have to push their own buttons.

     

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  12.  
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    Pauldow, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 5:36pm

    Just listen to an old Will Rogers recording where he makes jokes criticizing the government. It's like he could have recorded them yesterday.

     

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  13.  
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    Jim, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 6:59pm

    Re: ...back when I used to call the White House on a regular basis

    Now, now - it's not that they can't push their own buttons. Its that automatic elevators don't automatically recognize that there is a Senator in the car and go to his floor first.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 8:43pm

    Re:

    You mean they're not proposing to ban dishwashers?

     

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  15.  
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    Gerhard, Sep 22nd, 2010 @ 10:43pm

    New Fangled Dialy Phone

    Ladies and gentlemen for your viewing pleasure I provide you with the instructional film: How to Use the Dial Telephone.

    http://www.archive.org/details/HowtoUse1927

     

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  16.  
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    ethorad (profile), Sep 23rd, 2010 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Somewhat buried lede

    Agreed. Maybe for example they should disconnect themselves from the internet whenever they get accused of breaching copyright, and hope that the rest of the world "gets the hint"

     

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  17.  
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    Concerned Citizen, Sep 23rd, 2010 @ 8:01am

    Are you serious?

    Mike Masnick is comparing Apples to Oranges… Bad, bad comparison of government regulating technology of dial phones and pirate website which are clearly violating copyright law . There are laws for road traffic, for contracts and for personal safety. Therefore it should be no different on the internet. We all have free speech but if you yell “I have a Bomb” inside an airport or an airplane you will be arrested and shot if you resist arrest. Why should the internet be any different from enforcement of laws? It has come down to a group of senators who want to shut down Web sites dedicated to the illegal sharing of film, music, software, and other intellectual property. How many of you would tolerate coming up with an idea or product that people want to buy but there is a whole segment of the population who feel they don't need to pay for your product or idea and will take it and give it away to others for free. I guarantee you would not be the least bit happy if someone was taking money out of your pocket because someone wanted to play Robin Hood.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 23rd, 2010 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    Excuse my ignorance, but in what way were 1930s rotary telephones any more difficult than say 70s or 80s rotary phones?

     

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  19.  
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    wzardofodd, Sep 23rd, 2010 @ 9:05am

    copyright infringement

    ive mixed feelings about this copyright issue. whereas the original creator of any intellectual property should certainly be given protection if he so desires; i feel differently about middle management (remember what col tom parker did to elvis) & heirs claiming ownership of something they had no function in creating. one, the public domain issue should be strengthened. two, example: why should michael jackson collect royalties from beatles tunes (when he was alive, of course)? three, many entities freely shared their content w/their public; finding it a great strategy to "spread the word". (greatful dead, phish, mystery science theater, etc.) also, how does it really work? i purchased disraeli gears by cream on lp back in 1967. i then bought it on cassette, then 8-track, then cd over the years. i contend that i should have the right to download it from whereever because i originally paid the originator for the right to listen to it in 67. also, as a musician i remember the more than silly attempts by bmi-ascap to recover royalties from high school bands covering pop tunes from their clients. they would literally send an agent to a sock-hop to collect $1, or so from a band playing "born to be wild", or somesuch. his salary must have far exceeded the amounts collected. even tom would say thats petty. lol!!!

     

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  20.  
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    Lon Thomas (profile), Sep 23rd, 2010 @ 9:19pm

    Need some imagination here

    We have the advantage of 70 years over congressmen who complained about dialing phones. We know their future and we know how easy things are going to be. I don't blame them for not being prescient.

    Smart, reputable people thought our bones would explode or we might go mad on reaching a speed of35 mph on the earliest passenger trains.

    Give these folks a break, please.

     

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  21.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 23rd, 2010 @ 10:41pm

    Re: Are you serious?

    Mike Masnick is comparing Apples to Oranges…

    No. I'm not actually. But nice try.

    There are laws for road traffic, for contracts and for personal safety. Therefore it should be no different on the internet. We all have free speech but if you yell “I have a Bomb” inside an airport or an airplane you will be arrested and shot if you resist arrest.

    Indeed. But that's got nothing to do with what's going on here. We already have strong copyright protection laws, so there's no issue there. The problem is that the new attempt is not about copyright infringement, it's about some Senators deciding which new technologies will be allowed.

    Remember, when the VCR came out it was declared a "piracy tool," with Jack Valenti calling it "the Boston strangler" to the movie industry. If these Senators had their way, they would have banned it this way, without due process.

    When player pianos first came along they were damned for being "pirate tools."

    When radio came along it was damned for being a "pirate" tool.

    When television first came along it was damned for being a "pirate tool."

    How far do you want to go?

    Why should the internet be any different from enforcement of laws?

    It's not. As I said, we already have copyright laws. This is not about that. This is because the entertainment industry is either too lazy or too clueless to adapt, and so they want to ban tools -- not infringers -- for their problems.

    How many of you would tolerate coming up with an idea or product that people want to buy but there is a whole segment of the population who feel they don't need to pay for your product or idea and will take it and give it away to others for free.

    Out here, in the real world, it's what we call competition.

    I guarantee you would not be the least bit happy if someone was taking money out of your pocket because someone wanted to play Robin Hood.

    Nobody's "taking money" out of anyone's pocket. They're *not buying* but that's not the same thing. Please learn a little about this subject before standing up in favor of censorship.

     

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  22.  
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    Billie Walsh, Sep 24th, 2010 @ 5:45am

    Re: Are you serious?

    If Congress should decide that the speed on any two-lane road anywhere should not exceed 45 miles an hour and some guy in Spain is doing 55 how do you enforce it?

    That's pretty much what regulating the internet is like. Congress here passes a law but how do you enforce it in some other country where it may be legal, or they just done't care one way or the other. Should Congress send out "hit squads" to kidnap violators on foreign soil and bring them back to this country for trial.

    Congresscritters seldom have a clue how anything actually works. Just because a computer sits on their desk and they can retrieve information from the internet that they have a right, a duty, to regulate it.

     

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  23.  
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    Jorge, Apr 14th, 2011 @ 1:25am

    Hindsight is 20/20

    The only thing this anecdote proves is that hindsight is 20/20 Vision.

    It is very easy to demonize Senators in 1930 in light of what we know now. But the technology for dialing numbers was not born at the same time as the telephone. What the resolution of the Senate shows is that disc dialing, at least at that moment, was still an innovation difficult to apply and was not yet perfected enough to be entirely reliable or practical. At least compared to calling the operator.

    Therefore, for practical reasons, they asked that dial telephones be replaced by manual ones. In the end, there was a compromise, with the change made voluntary. No big deal.

    This reminds me of the old Mac-PC rivalry: Mac users liked a lot the features of graphic interface and mouse. PC users liked the functionality of a boring monochrome monitor. Only when computers became faster and had higher processing capacity that graphic interface became practical in every computer.

     

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