A brief history of the rise of AT&T

The young might only think of AT&T as one of the major cell phone carriers. But this ignores AT&T’s long and important history that includes many innovations and cycles the company has gone through:

But AT&T didn’t just conquer the 20th-century via clever marketing, mergers, and strategic deals with the government. In an era profoundly distrustful of corporations, it justified its expansion as a bid to offer “universal service” to the country. “One policy, one system, universal service,” became AT&T’s motto. Rather than breaking up the system, the government would regulate it as a “natural monopoly.”…

For the next 50 years, AT&T would consistently repeat the same cycle to avoid being broken up by the government—innovate, acquire, strategically retreat, then move forward again with a redefined mission. When the public reacted badly to the network’s attempt to take over broadcast radio, AT&T backed off in exchange for a monopoly on wireline service between radio stations. When the government again raised the spectre of a breakup after the Second World War, AT&T agreed to get out of the computer software business, leasing innovations like the Unix operating system to universities for a nominal fee.

Interesting. The research and development arm of this company produced a number of important technological breakthroughs that helped the United States rise to the top of the world heap in the mid 1950s. The company may be once again on the verge of a monopoly but it is hard to refute, to paraphrase a well-known saying, that “what has been good for AT&T has been good for America.”

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