Long Distance Rates For the Late Seventies and Early Eighties?
March 31, 2012 11:58 AM   Subscribe

How much did long distance telephone calls cost in the late 1970s and early 1980s? I'm mainly interested in hearing about rates for the USA but data from other countries would be welcome as well.

I grew up in the seventies and eighties and I have this vague memory of long-distance telephone calls -- even to a number in a neighboring state less than ten miles away -- being ridiculously expensive and a VERY BIG DEAL.

I don't remember the exact details, both because it was so damned long ago and because I wasn't very money-conscious at the time.

So how much did long distance telephone calls actually cost back then?

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Technology (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am from the same era. Can't really answer your question with actual numbers but my experience/impression was much the same as yours: -- being ridiculously expensive and a VERY BIG DEAL.
posted by bebrave! at 12:13 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I saw an ad for AT&T in an old National Geographic from the early 60's announcing direct long-distance dialing to several countries. I believe calls to the UK were around $3.00 per minutes for the first three minutes. France and Germany were a bit more, maybe $3.60 per minute.
posted by leaper at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2012

YouTube: Telephone History - 1970 Ad for Long Distance Calling has a history of pricing, and "Now, in 1970, the minimum is 70c" for a self-dialled three-minute call on weekends.

(I am your age and also remember the BIG DEAL aspect. Grandparents called at pre-arranged times so there was no risk of catching somebody in the middle of cooking dinner or whatever and you could talk, and the calls lasted roughly a pre-determined X minutes and my portion of that call was also a timed X minute deal.)

There are vintage print ads on-line that mention rates; I'm having an unfruitful Google despite having seen some fairly recently.
posted by kmennie at 12:28 PM on March 31, 2012

Best answer: I made lots of long distance calls in 1982 having just moved to a new town. The big players were AT&T, Sprint, and MCI. There were day rates, evening rates (starting at 7 pm), and night rates (starting around 11 pm or 12 am). I believe a typical evening rate was in the ballpark of 25 to 50 cents per minute on Sprint.

I would recommend digging into Google's News archives (search for phone stuff, then run the search date range back to the 1980s).. you'll find a lot of hard info that way in various news columns and ads.
posted by crapmatic at 12:33 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

(that rate I gave would be cross-country, in the US)
posted by crapmatic at 12:34 PM on March 31, 2012

You'll want to hit up an inflation calculator if you want context. For instance, in 1962, that $3/minute to the UK would be $21.38/minute (!) in 2010 dollars.
posted by waldo at 12:35 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This 1995 FCC "Statistics of Communications Common Carriers" report has some historical rate charts starting on page 277. During weekdays in 1980 AT&T charged $2.17 ($6 in today's money) for a five minute call from NYC to LA. Nights and weekends the same call cost $0.87 ($2.40).
posted by jon1270 at 12:44 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Looks like the price per minute for a long-distance AT&T call at the beginning of 1987 was 30¢, so if I'm remembering things correctly that would mean that an hour-long call would cost about the same as filling up the tank of a fairly large vehicle with gas. From here, the table "Price per minute by carrier and service", p. 108 in The Failure of Antitrust and Regulation to Establish Competition in Long-Distance Telephone Services by Paul W. MacAvoy, the American Enterprise Institute, 1996.

I also found this entertaining quote from 1997 from Business Week:
How can Qwest Communications Corp. get away with charging just 7½ cents a minute any time for long-distance calling—the ultra-agrressive pricing it announced on Dec. 15? For one thing, according to President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph P. Nacchio, "Long distance is still the most profitable business in America, next to importing illegal cocaine." As head of long-distance marketing for AT&T until last year, he should know.
posted by XMLicious at 12:44 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a New York Telephone ad from 1977. Looks like their regular rate was 50 cents for the first minute, with discounts evenings and weekends.
posted by Knappster at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the late '70's and early '80's, I remember that I was allowed to call Long Distance on weekends only, with Sunday Night being set aside as 'Call Night'.

(I also remember the local AT&T store in East Towne Mall had phones hooked up to 'try out', and they didn't have the Long Distance disabled, and I was chased out once by the store manager once they realized I was talked to my best friend some 80 miles way.)
posted by spinifex23 at 2:02 PM on March 31, 2012

They also used to charge more for the first minute, another reason you wouldn't want to waste a call if they weren't available.
posted by smackfu at 5:40 PM on March 31, 2012

In New Zealand in the early 1980s, I remember our family just did not make long distance calls because we couldn't afford it. We wrote letters. The one time there was a long distance call was when someone died.

But then, we still had a wind-the-handle phone, operators, and a party line, so our town was a little behind the times for telephones.
posted by lollusc at 6:21 PM on March 31, 2012

I had to send a several page fax from Iowa to Australia in 1996, and it cost $11.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:55 PM on March 31, 2012

I don't recall single rate long distance really taking over until sometime in the 90s. Prior to that the rate was based on distance and time of day, so a call from New York to Boston would cost less than a call to Chicago, which would cost less than a call to San Fransicso. Later, things went topsy turvy and in state calls cost more than out of state calls.
posted by wierdo at 2:21 AM on April 1, 2012

Oh man, did they ever hose us then! ESP when it was just Ma Bell, with no competition at all. In 1987 I had a long distance relationship, Beth in NYC and myself in the Chicago suburbs, I remember having phone bills over $200, and her having the same. And yes, even just a few towns over could cost you a lot, just a ton.

Good things? Free directory assistance, very high quality telephones (those old things were bombproof, built like tanks.)
posted by dancestoblue at 4:11 AM on April 1, 2012

I remember it costing more in the late 90's to call in-state long distance. I remember paying $.10 per min for long distance and $.25 for "local long distance".
posted by jmsta at 4:32 AM on April 1, 2012

Keep in mind you have to consider the discount rates so that inflation is taken into account, ie $11 in 1996 may be more like $20 today.

I know your after 70-80s but I found this in a uni textbook recently:
" The cost of a three-minute telephone call from New York to London fell from $350 in 1930 to about 40 cents in 1999"
posted by Under the Sea at 7:18 AM on April 1, 2012

The only problem with direct comparisons of inflation-adjusted numbers is that there was less stuff to spend money on back in the day, so the impact isn't quite as meaningful.

But yes, the prices were insane. I remember in the early 80s, my grandfather had a job traveling the world doing some kind of engineering. When he would call from remote locations, it was cool as hell. Especially because of all the hums and crackles and echos. You could literally hear the distance....
posted by gjc at 7:38 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this the place where I mention the commercials of the early 90s for 10-10-321 and its kind? I very distinctly remember one commercial, where a man was calling his parents long distance, and he gave his name as Bob Wehadababyitsaboy. Presumably so that the parents would still get the news, without paying for a call.
posted by Night_owl at 7:58 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't recall the rates, but they were pretty high and, being based on area code, local calling areas, and physical distance, made my father in-law do the following in the 80's...

My wife and I lived inside the Indianapolis city limits. My father in-law lived just outside the city limits on the north side, but in the same area code. My brother in-law also lived just outside Indianapolis but on the far south side, still in the same area code.

But, it would be a long-distance call for my father in-law to call my brother in-law, because there was the Indianapolis city calling area separating them. So, whenever my father in-law wanted to get a message to my brother in-law, he would call us (because it counted as a local call when dialing to an adjacent area in the same area code) and have us relay the message, it also being a local call for us.

I don't miss those days.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Many thanks to everyone! I've got the answers I was looking for, as well as some fun anecdotes!

Thanks again! Happy Aprils Fools' Day!
posted by jason's_planet at 12:10 PM on April 1, 2012

« Older Another health insurance question...   |   BBC for a newbie Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.