Saturday, September 16, 2006

Rotary Phone: Yours for Only $14k

I'm 35 years old. I remember having rotary phones in our home when I was a kid. I remember having only one rotary phone in our home. I remember having to lease our rotary phone from the phone company.

Honestly, in a world where cell phones are now roughly the size of matchbooks, I thought rotary phones were long gone. Apparently I was wrong.

USA Today: "Woman paid thousands to rent rotary phone"

Here's the drive-by version: Until about two months ago, our pals at AT&T have been leasing two black rotary phones to 82-year-old Ester Strogen for quite a while.

Like since the early 1960s.

Two months ago was when Strogen's grandkids figured out what was going on — that for the last four decades, Ms. Strogen had been paying roughly $10 per month to AT&T to lease real "dial-up" phones. As you might imagine, the grandkids were nonplussed. They whipped out their Nokia N80s and put a stop to it, and pronto.

Now, I'm all for capitalism. Throw rocks at me if you want, but I believe that companies like AT&T are in business to make a profit. Further, I believe that that's okay.

I also steer very clear of advocating "protecting people from themselves" — especially when it comes to matters of personal finance. At some point, folks have to step up and take responsibility for what goes on in their lives. And at some point — say, sometime in the last 20 or 30 years — kids or grandkids probably could have taken notice of Grandma Strogen's outdated communications gear, and maybe righted this . . . uh, grievous wrong.

As far as the above story is concerned, I guess I'm just heartless. I don't see where AT&T is guilty of much of anything, other than perhaps not pushing Ms. Strogen hard enough to sign up for some sort of outrageous Feature Bundle. I cannot, in any way, wag a finger at AT&T. And I sure don't see where "outrage" is justified on the part of the woman's granddaughter, Barb Gordon:

I'm outraged. It made me so mad. It's ridiculous. If my own grandmother was doing it, how many other people are?

What difference does it make? Maybe the rotary phones are the best choice for those folks. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . that's what they want to use.

Gordon said she believes the majority of people leasing are elderly and may not realize they are paying thousands of dollars for a telephone.

Gads. Perhaps Barb would like it better if AT&T just flat-out discontinued rotary-phone service and compatibility altogether — and left all those grandmas and grandpas disconnected and in the lurch.

It's not just the government that we expect handouts from any longer. Now we want to be coddled by corporate America, too. If we're not signed up for a product or service that's in our own best financial (or technological, or whatever) interest, apparently, then Mr. Graysuit over at the Gree Dee Corporation should be expected to step in and play babysitter. Isn't that what this is about, at least just a little bit?

Protect us from ourselves. Please. We're too busy ... too distracted ... or too lazy to do much of anything for ourselves. Except, of course, blame The Other Guy.

Last time I checked, AT&T was not in the business of geriatric oversight. But I could be wrong. Those guys are greedy to the extreme, right? And goodness knows there's probably money in it.

Strogen says she's not a big fan of her new push-button phone.

"I'd like to have my rotary back," she said. "I like that better."

One good thing about all this: At least now Ms. Strogen should have some extra monthly funds to put toward broadband 'net access. It's what she wants, of course.

She just doesn't know it yet.

— Posted by Michael @ 10:15 PM


If she had been paying it since the 60s then it is her fault. But it is surprising that AT&T would even offer such a service. In a way I agree with you...theyre in business to make a profit. But it still seems sort of shady.


Nah. "Shady" is when F&I guys or mortgage brokers "get creative" with loan documents (say, showing income that isn't there) just because that's the only way the car or house deal will go through.

AT&T was providing the service that this customer had requested. It might not have been the "right" service, but it was what she'd signed up for.

They likely could've pressured her out of her current contract, and into something more contemporary (and expensive, and profitable) had they wished. But they'd likely get ripped for that, too.


Great post. It made me laugh out loud. My TV is a non plasma model. Someone should step in immediatly.


Ironically, if their grandmother's situation is anything like my grandmother's situation, they just cost her a bundle. My grandmother pays a rental fee (around $10 - not sure exactly) and $5 per month for rotary service. Total monthly phone bill = $15. To switch to touchtone would cost at least twice as much. In fact, she doesn't even use the rotary phone - she uses a cordless with the little switch pushed over to rotary. Push the four button and you hear beep click click click click - just like my first phone.


"I'd like to have my rotary back," she said. "I like that better."

From that quote I take it that:
1) She was getting what she wanted
2) Her Grandkids have taken away what she liked, and substituted something less attractive (to her) in order to save less than $120 per year.

Maybe the grandkids hope the extra $100 or so a year will end up in their inheritance ;)


lol...i think USA Today had nothing better to report. It seems like a non-issue. However, that being said, I have no doubt that AT&T is one of the shady-est company I have dealt with.



That thought about the inheritance struck me also. Glad to see I'm not the only ultra-cynical person in the world.


Personally, I think somebody made the whole story up. I mean, seriously, who would really have a name like E.Strogen?

Am I the only one seeing this?



Actually, I saw the "E.Strogen" thing the second time I read thru the USA Today article. I started to include a joke about it in my post, but thought better of it.

But as far as it being a "made up" story, I never considered that. Anything's possible, I guess.


You can't save stupid people from themselves. Yes, the woman is 80 and deserves a break, but that doesn't excuse her from cancelling this charge 25 years ago when she should've known better.

I also think this speaks volumes about her kids and how well they take care of their mom. When I'm 80, I sure hope my kids would know that I'm using a 50 year old rotary phone and maybe get me a new $15 phone.


Great site Michael,

I loved this article. First of all, I don't see how they came up with the $14,000.00 figure if it's $120.00 per year. But I've lately been thinking of all the things that we pay to "lease." In particular, we recently let go of a $14.99 per month rental of a water cooler -- leading me to find a lovely space in my kitchen and putting water back in the fridge for a fairly nice savings. In the beginning, we rented our cable modem -- now, I think it came "free" for the $35 per month we pay for the service. We still rent cable boxes and have no choice (except Satellite) if we want to use the cable that we pay for (or the t.v. at all -- we have no reception without cable). We even pay a monthly fee to rent the remotes. If I went around my house, I'm sure I could find a bunch of other items that those of us today naturally rent, "because it's the way it's done." When grannie heard, like the rest of us, that phones could be bought on your own, she wasn't 80 years old. When did AT&T's obligations kick into her -- in her 80's or in her 50-60's when it was broken into pieces and we were all allowed to go elsewhere for service? I'm with you on this one, but, I think all these companies should offer the choice of owning equipment when leasing will cost us so much over the lifetime of the equipment. (By the way, I'm looking into these memory cards I heard about that allow all your cable to be stored and cost about 1.50 a month. From an article I read, they are only available for use on the new, mega-bucks TIVO, but, the card seems like an ideal way for t.v. makers to go also -- put in the card and up comes your cable, no box, no rented remote.


Mrs. Strogen's kids are an example of everything that is wrong in America today. Everyone is a victim of big companies who only care about profit. Of course they only care about profit, it's what they're in business for. Just as I only go to work because they pay me. The problem with AT&T is the political action they engage in to make profits at consumer expense. It is completely acceptable to sell someone a service they want, even if they're are better services available.

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 7:55 PM, October 01, 2006  

As a Christmas gift, my company sent Mrs. Strogen a Black Rotary Dial phone to make up for the ones that she had returned to the phone company. Until this article came out I had no idea how many people were still leasing their phones although I knew that it did still occur and that the phone companies ask for their phones back when the payments stop coming in.

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