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1822 - The demise of the phone company

Telephone service first hit Cheyenne in the 1881. Soon lines stretched from the state capitol all the way to Evanston and north to Sheridan and all places in-between.   

And for 125 years, those lines hummed with calls 24 hours a day.  

Yellow pages were invented in Cheyenne in 1881 when the first phone book was printed. They ran out of white paper and printed the business listings on some yellow paper they had laying around. Started a national trend.

Telephone Canyon, which stretches steeply west down into Laramie on Interstate 80, was named that because the first telephone cable from Cheyenne to Laramie in 1882 was strung down that route.

         My, have times changed when it comes to telephone service in the Cowboy State.

         The future of the telephone company in Wyoming comes down to POTS and PANS, according to the primary lobbyist for the Century Link Company.

         Kristin Lee was in Lander for a legislative meeting and told the sad tale about the decline of her company. POTS stands for “Plain Old Telephone Service.”  While PANS stands for “Pretty Awesome New Stuff.”

         Lee is a Cheyenne lawyer/lobbyist who works for Century Link. Her complaint is the phone company is still heavily regulated in Wyoming when it is no longer a monopoly. Their business model is outdated and in decline.

         “At our height, we had 150,000 phone lines in Wyoming,” she said.  “Many homes had separate lines for the kids. Businesses had separate lines for fax machines. All that has gone away. Today we have 60,000 lines and it is declining at a rate of 10 percent per year.”

         There is a proposal to build a $12 million line north of Lusk for 200 customers.  “We get $23.10 per month per customer. It just does not work out, she said”

         “Our business model is dead,” she says. She is hoping the legislature will ease up on the decades-old regulations that still govern her company, but do not faze its competitors.

         The legislative committee ultimately voted to draft a bill by a 9-4 vote, to extend the Wyoming telecommunication act. But there was a lot of movement toward the idea of removing Century Link from oversight, since it obviously is no longer a monopoly.

         Phone service in Wyoming has come a long way by way of diversification over the decades. It is unrecognizable compared to what we experienced back in the 1970s.

         Mountain Bell was one of the major Bell operating companies, based out of Denver.  Then as deregulation occurred, an outfit called U.S. West took over. Then Qwest took over the phones.  It was funny to hear people either call the company “Quest” or “Cue-West.” Never did know how to pronounce it.

         Back in those days the people at the local phone company were prominent folks in our community.  Today, they are nowhere to be seen – the phone company’s employees, that is.

         To folks of the older generation, the impossible seems to be occurring – ditching their land telephone line.  The arrival of cell phones almost 30 years ago has changed everything.

         When the Internet arrived, something called VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) came into being.

         Then the big cable companies started bundling your cable TV, your Internet, and your landline as one package.  This event probably has kept more landlines in operation than any other event.

         But mainly folks are just using their cell phones full-time.

         My mom still likes her landline, though. My 94-year old mother Betty Sniffin really loves the Internet. One of my brothers, Ron Sniffin of Cheyenne, and a sister, Susan Kinneman of Riverton, helped mom put together an Internet network called “Betnet,” which she uses to communicate with the dozens of members of her extended family. It includes her 11 children and their spouses, her 23 grandchildren and her 24 great-grandchildren.  Since her one and only great-great grandchild is barely one year old, she probably cannot claim a five-generation network, but she is ready whenever little Hailey picks up a cell phone and starts playing around.

         But my point is that as readily as my mom took to the computer and the Internet, she never really liked cell phones.  Part of it was her hearing aids, which are a constant source of irritation.

         Her landline is hooked up to a machine that translates voice into printed words on a screen, so she can communicate pretty well.

         Alas, times are changing.  Relics of our past like the legacy telephone carriers are hanging around, but just barely.