Weatherford Democrat

May 19, 2013

NOW HEAR THIS: ‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate’

Weatherford Democrat


This famous quote addressing communication failure is a classic line from the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” starring Paul Newman. Strother Martin, who played the role of the warden in a southern prison, would use this phrase every time he gave Luke a good whack with his baton. The concept resonated so well with moviegoers that it was voted No. 11 of the 100 all-time favorite movie quotes according to the American Film Institute.

Failure to communicate down on the “pore farm” was pretty easy when I was a youngster, since we didn’t get telephone service until 1962. The Communications Act of 1934 was supposed to fix that, but it seems someone didn’t get the memo. The bill was to “provide nationwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges” to “all the people” of the United States. AT&T was allowed to jack up long distance rates to support this service.

Almost 30 years later, we finally got an eight-party line. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 added additional new fees, especially the Universal Service Fee (USF), which was also to provide rural access to high-speed Internet and cell phone coverage. It seems this massive “hidden tax” instead only provides for free Obama cell phones in Chicago, Detroit, et al.

On our phone bills today, it seems that roughly a fourth of a basic phone bill is comprised of these fees, contributions, taxes, charges, services, or surcharges. All perfectly legal, because I have read that between 1998 and 2010, AT&T alone spent $130 million on lobbying in the United States. You can buy a lot of your very own political weasels with that kind of money. You can also be assured that telephone subscribers like you and me paid every dime of these political bribes, administrative costs and corporate profits.

After decades of steadily escalating home phone costs, I decided to switch over to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone service with my high-speed wireless internet service provider.  For $19 monthly, I was promised everything for which I was paying Ma Bell roughly $80. It didn’t take long for that to strike a chord with this farm boy. After switching, the shine quickly wore off the apple, and we began to have a “failure to communicate.”

Putting up with marginal phone service for about two years, Helen and I decided to again give a large chunk of our children’s inheritance to AT&T. As repugnant as it seemed, we chose to grovel, throw money at them and beg to be reconnected to Ma Bell’s extortion network – the price we have to pay for a phone that works. 

To facilitate the switch over, I spent many hours waiting on hold for a Third World service rep who couldn’t speak English and only wanted to sell me a bundle of services that are not available on Route One Millsap, despite the USF. When the day for hookup arrived, I waited 12 hours for a technician who never showed. Naturally, he showed the next afternoon when we were out of town.

Enduring three days without Internet, no home phone and cell phones with no signal, we finally made it.  However, in retrospect, being out of touch with the rest of the world really wasn’t all that bad.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to