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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 which, 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 can refer to 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 inter-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 of 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. For example, the largest carrier, AT&T (in February 2007), offered these three [plus others] plans in the United States: $30 per month for unlimited calling, $10 per month for 120 minutes plus 10 cents per minute thereafter, or $2 per month and 10 cents per minute. Graphing rate vs. usage shows that the $2 per month plan is cheapest if calling 80 minutes or less per month, the $10 per month plan is cheapest if calling 80 to 320 minutes per month, and the $30 per month plan is cheapest if calling over 320 minutes per month. Smaller companies including MCI Inc and Pioneer Telephone may offer plans in similar variety at different prices. Some of these plans can be found on Web sites that compare a variety of long distance phone and phone card options, giving consumers useful and timely information.


  • LEC: Local Exchange Carrier
  • CLEC: Competitive Local Exchange Carrier
  • PIC: Preferred Interexchange Carrier
  • PIC Freeze: A customer's arrangement with the local exchange carrier (local telephone company) to prevent unauthorized changing of their long distance telephone carrier (oral or written). This prevents slamming. This feature is free of charge and many customers do not know they have it, which may cause a new long distance order to be delayed up to several weeks. If you do have a PIC freeze on your line, you must remove it before submitting the long distance order..
  • Telephone slamming: The illegal practice of changing a consumer's telephone service—local (intra-LATA), toll (inter-LATA intrastate), long distance (inter-LATA inter-state), or international—without permission.


Site of one end of the first long distance telephone call in 1876 in Cambridge, Massachusetts

AT&T built an interconnected long-distance telephone network, which reached from New York to Chicago in 1892, the technological limit for the wiring used. 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 1907–1914—which provided the means for telephone signals to reach from coast to coast, which was made possible in 1914, but not showcased until early 1915, as a promotion for the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in the spring of 1915.

On 25 January 1915, Alexander Graham Bell sent the first transcontinental telephone call, at 15 Day Street in New York City, which was received by Thomas Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. This process, nevertheless, involved five intermediary 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 [on January 25, 1915] 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."[1] At this time, long distance calling was performed via manual patching by a series of long-distance operators in the route of the call; connecting a coast-to-coast call in this way could take up to 23 minutes.

The first customer-connected long-distance telephone call was made on November 11, 1951 when Mayor M. Leslie Downing 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 would now be called 10-digit dialing, and was connected automatically within 18 seconds.[2] In addition to area codes, this development also came with the introduction of a national seven-digit standard for local number length.

Until the early 1980s, a called party could instantly recognize an incoming long distance call by its hiss and/or low level, due to the inherent signal loss and introduction of noise common with all-analog long-distance telecommunications circuits of the era. The introduction of digital technology such as 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 approach the high voice quality of local calls.

See also


  1. ^ "Phone to Pacific From the Atlantic". The New York Times, 26 January 1915. Retrieved: 21 July 2007.
  2. ^ 1951: First Direct-Dial Transcontinental Telephone Call, AT&T. Accessed June 8, 2007. "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."

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