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A Whine About Telephone Service 
It seems to me I spend quite a bit of time complaining about various services in this space. I’ve complained about the rise in postal rates, garbage disposal, electricity, road maintenance. Like most of us up here, I think it’s my constitutional right to whine, and I like to take full advantage of it. It should be noted, however, that I’ve never whined about our splendid fire department or the Boulder County Sheriff. I like to whine, but I’m not stupid.
I suppose, over the years, I’ve whined most about the phone, and if this bores you just skip the rest of this and get on with reading about Grandma Cat.
My mother, when I became too exasperating, used to say to me, “You make me tired.” Apparently not terminally tired, since she turns 83 this month. But I understand how she felt, because the phone company makes me tired.
This month I got my bill from what some of my friends like to call “Useless West,” and it included some $30.00 in long distance calls to people I don’t know and whose telephone numbers I don’t recognize.
After a few minutes of sleuthing on my own, I discovered the reason. Two months ago, the phone company got rid of the operator intercept on the party lines, and they installed some little computer cards in the boxes outside our home to tell the wonderful new computerized system in Allenspark what numbers we were calling. But they forgot some, including mine. And if you’re still talking to an operator, then they haven’t gotten around to yours, either. But when they do it, if they don’t install that little card, you’re going to get, as I did, the bill for your party line’s calls. And I did find out that my party line is very faithful about calling her mother.
One of the calls was billed to AT & T, so I had to call them, too. “I have a charge from my party line I’d like to have removed,” I said.
“Oh, you must be in Colorado,” said the operator. “Yes,” I said. “How did you know?” “Oh,” she said, “that’s the only place in the country that still has party lines.”
The operator is in Arizona, and she tells me that her parents live 20 miles from the nearest town in Montana and have a private line. When I told her I live 30 feet from a trunk line and the phone company wants $500 to let me have a private line, she said, “Yes, I know. Somebody else told me that, and I didn’t believe them, so I called U.S. West, and sure enough, that was the price. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.”
Well, neither can I. Not only is Longmont a long distance call, but we were supposed to be included in the Rural Telephone Improvement Plan but “for some reason” we weren’t. So we now have fiber optics in a cable as big as your leg running along the highway, and four-party lines that don’t work much of the time. When I pick up the phone after I’ve been gone a week, it’s a crap shoot whether there’ll be a dial tone. And when I call the repair service, I get, “You know, sir, you don’t have a service contract, so if the problem’s with your phone there will be a substantial service charge.” So I tell her, “I’ve been reporting phone trouble up here for more than 30 years and it’s never been my equipment.” They make me tired.
We need to do something about this, friends. If we don’t, Charles Kuralt is going to be along to do a piece about “the last place in America with four party lines.” I don’t want to be quaint. I want to plug in my modem and not have to fight with teenage girls over the use of the phone lines. They think I’m an old jerk and I think they’re insensitive. So we’re complaining about each other when the real villain is U.S. West.
It makes me tired.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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