Telephone History Enquiry: Earliest Pre-Pay Calls

Telephone History Buffs:

I'm looking for information on early pre-pay systems that did not require special telephones. To be relevant to my search, the pre-pay system would need to:

  1. Have been implemented before 1987.
  2. Have documentation that we could find today.
  3. Not require special telephone stations.

An example of a system which might meet these requirements would be a company which would provide telephone calls for me on the basis of my depositing money into an account with them; I would then call their telephone number and they would then extend calls for me only until that credit was used up; terminating the call when the there was no more money, and requiring me to replenish my account before further calls could be made.

Yes, this is common today with the plethora of pre-pay calling cards. I'm looking for the first instance of such a thing, even if fully manual in terms of operation. To be relevant, it must have been in use (and verifiably so) prior to 1987.

My search of the archives so far has not returned anything; we weren't talking about such things in the early 1980s. Back then we thought that the introduction by the Bell System of the first dial-it-yourself calling card system in early 1982 was cool (ref my own article in the digest 21 Jan 1982 1035). Prepay doesn't seem to have been needed back then since almost anyone could get the pay-when-the-bill-comes type of calling card. People must have been more obvious, or more of the cost of fraud was built into the cost we all paid for calls. And resellers of telephone service were few and far between.


TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: For those readers who may have missed the issue of the Digest from almost 24 years ago -- January 21, 1982 -- the pertinent message from John Covert, another long time, charter subscriber to this Digest, is excerpted here. Prior to using '@' as the middle character in our email addresses and using a domain suffix such as '.org' or '.com' we simply concluded with the site name. _Do not_ use the address shown below to reach Mr. Covert now. PAT]

Date: 21 Jan 1982 1035-EST From: John R. Covert Subject: Dial-it-yourself telephone Calling Card service

I was using the new Dial-it-yourself credit card service on our Denver FX last night. It is really well done. In a previous message I described the operation of the service. That demon- stration was before the service was put into actual use.

When your call goes into TSPS, you will hear a new tone, which is the DTMF "#" key immediately followed by a very brief and fading dial tone. During the pre-service demonstration, you then got a recorded voice asking you to enter your Calling Card number. It seems that in actual implementation, that message does not occur. You have to simply know that if you hear the new tone to enter your card. If you don't, or if you dial "0", you will go to an operator.

If you want to call the number to which the credit card is issued, you need dial only the last four digits of the credit card. This is the reason RAOs beginning with "0" will appear on calling cards beginning with "6" now.

If there is no answer, or after the person you call hangs up, you may dial a "#", and you will be told, "You may dial another number now." At this point you may dial either 0+Number or just Number with the same result. 1+Number is illegal. Likewise, you may dial 01+ overseas number, but not 011+ overseas number.

In no case do you get an actual operator through this procedure, although I have heard that there may be a change to the procedure to allow you to dial you calling card and still get an operator for person-to-person calls. Surprising, though. They'd like to make person-to-person go away. This may have been a false story.

The rates for using this will, like all phone rates, be regulated by state authorities for instate use and by the FCC for interstate use. In a few states, Bell has already filed special credit card rates. For example, in Massachusetts, you get the DDD rate for credit card calls (regardless of whether it is operator keyed or dialed yourself) but you pay a $0.45 credit card billing charge. From messages in this digest, I presume that North Carolina has done the same thing. Other states may have as well.

In a previous message to this digest, I explained that I have a copy of an "illustrative" tariff which shows a significant re-vamping of charges for INTERstate calls. In this tariff, there is a service called "Customer Dialed Calling Card, Station" which is the DDD rate plus $0.50. The next line lists "Operator-Station" as the DDD rate plus mileage-based service charges. The final line lists "Operator-Person-to-Person" as the DDD rate plus $3.00.

This tariff is not yet approved. It seems unfair for me to have to pay more to use my calling card simply because some pay-phone at some airport in some small town doesn't have Touch-Tone. The instate tariffs I have seen so far seem to take that into account; the "illustrative" tariff for interstate calls doesn't.


[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: A quarter-century ago, Mr. Covert was an active participant in this Digest. PAT]
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John R. Covert
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