Phone aaya, phone aaya! – Part 2: Winds of change (mid-1980s – mid 1990s)

Winds of change started blowing in the mid-80s with the first PM of India who grew up post-independence. The erstwhile PMs, having grown up before India gained independence from the British, were wary of forging close business relationship with companies based out of India. Understandable as the English gained entry into India as the innocuous East India Company only to stay entrenched and colonize the country 😦 The scars were deep and fresh for those who witnessed or took part in the struggle to gain freedom. What that resulted in was building a manufacturing base within and creating educational institutions (to supply engineers and workers) for reducing outside dependence. That provided a measure of self-reliance. Challenge was in taking it to the next level. The new PM, unencumbered by such burden of history and being exposed to technology advances when studying abroad, realized the need to open up for modernization of communication systems. The Government of the day decided it was not their business to decide who should own what and began by deregulating a bit. Return of tech-savvy folks who had worked and made a name for themselves abroad aided this quest to improve. With focused effort the wait for a residential telephone reduced drastically to single digit years! If you paid a higher deposit money the wait could be shaved off by couple of years too. With more pay phones targeted for installation mom and pop stores could also make some money on the side by managing pay phones installed outside their shops.
With the introduction of H1 visa by the USA, to attract more tech trained folks, the # of Indians traveling to the land of opportunity increased significantly. In the USA – Ma Bell, which had been ruling the roost for the better part of 20th century, attracted the attention of the regulators. A private monopoly, which is not good either, they were stymieing competition and were free to charge as they pleased as long as there was no viable competition. I clearly remember how steep the calling rates were for international calls especially as I was personal witness to that. My brother was in the USA for higher studies and a good chunk of the stipend he got for his TA was spent in calls to family back in India. While we had applied for a telephone it was still a few years away from being delivered. Every weekend he would make a call to a neighbor and by the time we reached their place few minutes later for speaking to him AT&T folks were already laughing all their way to the bank to the tune of ~ $2.50/minute 😦
We got our own phone connection in due course of time and along with new handset that my brother had sent with touch buttons, message and other nice features. It was an occasion to celebrate! Those were the days caller ID, call waiting etc were not widely available. The obligatory calls to friends, relatives and co-workers followed along with request to them to make a note of our telephone#. Calls from work or other places outside to home just to keep the phone running like a well oiled machine πŸ˜€ It was fun to call those initial days just because we could πŸ™‚ Of course new developments in voice technology were about to make their presence felt and they were just around the corner: The cellular technology and the mobile phone!

Part 3: I am mobile and I am here to stay!…To be continued

Author: Rajaram 'Raj' Gopalan

Hi All, Welcome to my home in cyberspace! You can call me Raj. Feel free to explore, discuss, comment and most importantly have a good time!

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