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Telephone Services (Part 1)

After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it didn't take long for people everywhere to see the benefits of communicating by phone. And as historian Don Wetherell points out, Albertans were just as keen to leap into the telephone age.

There were some telephone lines in Alberta by the 1880's but it was very limited service. Short lines were problems with transmitting telephone messages over long distances.

Then in 1907 the Alberta government began building lines and it formed Alberta government telephones, and that network expanded very rapidly between 1908 and 1914. And by the 1920's telephones were relatively common in Alberta.

They were especially popular on farms, and, during this expansionary phase, in the teens, advertisements for telephone equipment were commonly run in the farm press.

Prairie farmers saw telephone service as a means of breaking out of the isolation and vulnerability that came with living on the farm. But it was obvious after three decades since the invention of the telephone, the only way Alberta’s farmers would get hooked up is if the government took on the job itself.

Well the private companies won’t provide service to farms and to farms areas because it wasn’t profitable enough for them to do it.

Some of the big telephone companies like Bell were in parts of Alberta, but rural areas, they wouldn’t extend service to rural areas because the population was too thin and the installation costs were too high.

And we see the same pattern in Saskatchewan where the government also takes over the telephones and operates them as a public service.

But of course the idea also behind that "Public Service" was that rates would be lower and would be more affordable because there wouldn’t be profit that would have to be earned out of the operation of the telephone system.

No one would have to pay taxes because it would be a Crown Corporation, so these, this valuable service could be provided at a lower cost, because the profit motive wasn’t present in it.

Alberta Government Telephones survived until it was privatized in the 1990’s under the company name of Telus.

On the heritage trail, I’m Cheryl Croucher.