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The first long distance phone company in the USA, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, was formed in 1885 as a subsidiary of the American Bell Telephone Company. AT&T's charter was to build and operate the long distance telephone network for its parent company; it completed its first long distance line, between New York and Philadelphia, within a year. The line could handle only one telephone call at a time! From these humble beginnings, AT&T went on to develop a sophisticated long distance telephone network that enabled telephone users throughout the USA to efficiently communicate with each other and with people in foreign countries.
During the 1920s and 1930s, heavy duty open-wire carrier lines were widely installed to handle long distance communications. These lines used Frequency Division Multiplexing (FDM) to carry multiple phone calls over a pair of copper wires simultaneously. After World War II, microwave radio transmission towers sprung up across the USA (and around the world) to handle increased long distance call volumes. However, these radio transmissions required direct lines of sight between adjacent towers, and were subject to interference from rain. For a time, during the late 1960s and 1970s, communications satellites were enthusiastically touted for long distance telephone communications, but 1/2 second transmission delays (due to high geostationary satellite orbits) led researchers to look for more efficient long distance transmission alternatives. Fiber optics technology, developed during the 1970s and widely adopted during the 1980s, has proven to be a high quality, high bandwidth medium that is well suited to transmitting long distance telephone calls.
Until 1984, the United States public telephone network, including long distance service, was largely run by AT&T and the Bell System. But after the AT&T divestiture, announced in early 1982, competition in the long distance phone service market increased dramatically. Several long distance carriers, including MCI and Sprint, began to draw many customers away from AT&T. Furthermore, since the 1990s, the development of wireless cellular phone networks, as well as satellite phone services for remote areas, have provided additional long distance calling options for businesses and consumers alike.
In recent years, as high speed Internet service has become more pervasive, Voice over IP (VoIP) long distance service has become popular. A VoIP phone service subscriber uses high speed Internet access lines for outgoing and incoming calls. VoIP service often features unlimited long distance calling anywhere in the United States and Canada, for a fixed monthly fee. Vonage and some cable Internet service providers offer VoIP long distance plans.
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