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In telecommunications, a long-distance call is a telephone call made outside a certain area, usually characterized by an area code outside of a local call area (known in the United States as a local access and transport area or LATA). Long-distance calls usually carry long-distance charges that, within certain nations, vary between phone companies and are the subject of much competition. International calls are calls made between different countries, and usually carry much higher charges. These calls are charged to the calling party if the called party declines a collect call.
Categories and charges
In the United States, long-distance is either of two different classes of calls that are not local calls. The most common class of long-distance is often called interstate long-distance, though the more accurate term is inter-LATA interstate long-distance. This is the form of long-distance most commonly meant by the term, and the one for which long-distance carriers are usually chosen by telephone customers.
Another form of long-distance, increasingly relevant to more U.S. states, is known as intra-LATA intrastate long-distance. This refers to a calling area outside of the customer’s LATA but within the customer's state. While technically and legally long-distance, this calling area is not necessarily served by the same carrier used for "regular" long-distance, or may be provided at different rates. In some cases, customer confusion occurs as, due to rate or carrier distinctions, a local long-distance call can be billed at a higher per-minute rate than interstate long-distance calls, despite being a shorter distance.
Often, in large LATAs, there is also a class known by the oxymoronic name local long-distance, which refers to calls within the customer's LATA but outside their local calling area. This area is normally served by the customer's local telephone provider, which is usually one of the Baby Bells, despite attempts by some CLECs to compete in the local telephone market.
Callers are usually offered a variety of rate "plans" depending on usage, although which plan is cheapest for a given amount of usage is often not obvious. Plans may be "unlimited" or may package an initial amount of minutes and charge additional minutes at a flat rate, and further varieties abound. Some plans can be compared easily if the number of minutes of usage will be estimated in advance, but others are not as clearly comparable. Some of these plans can be found on websites that compare a variety of long-distance phone and phone card options, giving consumers useful and timely information.
In 1892, AT&T built an interconnected long-distance telephone network, which reached from New York to Chicago, the technological limit for non-amplified wiring. Users often did not use their own phone for such connections, but made an appointment to use a special long-distance telephone booth or "silence cabinet" equipped with 4-wire telephones and other advanced technology. The invention of loading coils extended the range to Denver in 1911, again reaching a technological limit. A major research venture and contest led to the development of the audion—originally invented by Lee De Forest and greatly improved by others in the years between 1907 and 1914—which provided the means for telephone signals to reach from coast to coast. Such transcontinental calling was made possible in 1914 but was not showcased until early 1915, as a promotion for the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in the spring of the same year.
On January 25, 1915, Alexander Graham Bell ceremonially sent the first transcontinental telephone call from 15 Dey Street in New York City, which was received by his former assistant Thomas A. Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. This process, nevertheless, involved five intermediary telephone operators and took 23 minutes to connect. The New York Times reported:
- "On October 9, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson talked by telephone to each other over a two-mile (3 km) wire stretched between Cambridge and Boston. It was the first wire conversation ever held. Yesterday afternoon the same two men talked by telephone to each other over a 3,400-mile (5,500 km) wire between New York and San Francisco. Dr. Bell, the veteran inventor of the telephone, was in New York, and Mr. Watson, his former associate, was on the other side of the continent. They heard each other much more distinctly than they did in their first talk thirty-eight years ago."
At that distant time, long-distance calling was performed by manual patching in the route of the call by a series of long-distance operators; connecting a coast-to-coast call this way thus took up to 23 minutes.
The first self-dialed customer-connected long-distance telephone call in North America was made much later on November 11, 1951 when Mayor M. Leslie Denning of Englewood, New Jersey called Mayor Frank Osborne of Alameda, California, using AT&T's direct distance dialing feature. This was the first call dialed with an area code, using what is now called 10-digit dialing, and was connected automatically within 18 seconds. In addition to area codes, this development also came with the introduction of a national seven-digit standard for local number length. Self-dialed customer connected calls had been common in Europe decades earlier, prompted by telephone companies such as the International Bell Telephone Company that were not hesitant to incorporate newer technology into their systems.
Until the early 1980s a called party could instantly recognize an incoming long-distance call by its hiss or low level, due to the inherent signal loss and introduction of noise common with all-analog long-distance telecommunication circuits of the era. The introduction of digital technologies such pulse-code modulation and T-carrier circuits by AT&T starting in 1961 (and adopted by their long-distance networks on a larger scale starting in the early to mid-1970s) let long-distance calls match the high voice quality of local calls.
With the breakup of the Bell system in 1984, the US federal government imposed rules to allow the Baby Bells and other long-distance providers to compete via "equal access." Equal access allows telephone subscribers to choose an authorized telephone company or companies to handle their local toll and long-distance toll (including international) calls from their traditional, wireline telephones. Where equal access is available, subscribers may dial the prefix "1010" and a 3-digit code specific to the long-distance Carrier in order to have that carrier handle the InterLATA call. These Equal Access codes are currently known: 1010288 – AT&T, 1010333 – Sprint, 1010550 – CenturyLink. By dialing a special number (in the U.S.), 1-700-555-4141, a subscriber can hear a recorded message that announces the InterLATA carrier. By dialing the Equal Access code and then this '700' number, the recorded message is played for the selected carrier.
Dramatization of a long distance call circa 1954 In this excerpt from the radio series Dragnet, Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) places a person-to-person long-distance call to a number on a manual switchboard in Fountain Green, Utah. In the call, Friday calls a long-distance operator in Los Angeles and gives the name and number of the called party. The operator then calls a rate operator to get the route and rate. The rate operator responds that the call should be routed through Salt Lake City, Utah and Mount Pleasant, Utah and that the rate for a night person call is $1.40 per minute ($12.15 in 2013 dollars). The Los Angeles operator then calls the Salt Lake City operator and asks for Mount Pleasant; the Salt Lake operator rings Mount Pleasant, and the Los Angeles operator asks the Mount Pleasant operator for Fountain Green. The Mount Pleasant operator next rings Fountain Green, and the Los Angeles operator gives the Fountain Green operator the number and name of the called party in Fountain Green. The Fountain Green operator then rings the number. A man answers and the Los Angeles operator asks for the called party and states that Los Angeles is calling. The dramatization illustrates the cumbersome and labor-intensive process needed for long-distance calling before direct distance dialing was a reality.
- AT&T Long Lines
- Long-haul communications
- Toll restriction
- Trunk vs Toll
- Voice over Internet Protocol is often used to reduce the costs of long-distance services
- Interexchange carrier
- Alexander Graham Bell, in a speech to the Canadian Club, Ottawa, March 27, 1909. Quote: "It was I who invented the telephone and it was invented wherever I happened to be at the time. Of this you may be sure, the telephone was invented in Canada. It was made in the United States. The first transmission of a human voice over a telephone wire, where the speaker and the listener were miles apart, was in Canada [referring to his demonstration call between Brantford and Paris, Ontario].... etc..."
- "Phone to Pacific From the Atlantic". New York Times, January 26, 1915. Retrieved: July 21, 2007.
- The mosquito crusades: a history of ... – Gordon M. Patterson – Google Books
- 1951: First Direct-Dial Transcontinental Telephone Call, AT&T Inc. Accessed June 8, 2007. Quote: "Nov. 10, 1951: Mayor M. Leslie Downing of Englewood, N.J., picked up a telephone and dialed 10 digits. Eighteen seconds later, he reached Mayor Frank Osborne in Alameda, Calif. The mayors made history as they chatted in the first customer-dialed long-distance call, one that introduced area codes."
- First Transcontinental Telephone Call
- First Direct-Dial Transcontinental Telephone Call
- Slamming Reference
- 1922 Britannica supplement
- Low cost calling cards
- The short film "Nation at Your Fingertips, The (1951)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]