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Bring your own phone? Finally, it was official

Until 1980, it was illegal to plug in phones that weren't rented from the telephone company.

Mickey Mouse or Superman could take your calls

The telecommunications regulator permits the use of non-Bell equipment on Bell lines in 1980. 2:03

It was only a matter of time before Mickey Mouse or Superman would be taking telephone calls in the homes of Canadians in Ontario, Quebec and the eastern Arctic.

On Aug. 6, 1980, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that customers of the Bell telephone company could plug in any phone they wanted.

"For customers, it's good news," said CBC reporter Susan Murray. "It's now legal to buy and use an extension." 

Telephone gadgets like automatic diallers or speakerphones were also legal. 

And the one-time cost of a phone was much cheaper than the monthly rental fee Bell had extracted from users up to that point.

The catch

Bell president James Thackery said rates would have to go up as a result of the CRTC decision. (The National/CBC Archives)

If Bell could no longer count on income from customers renting phones, that could only mean one thing.

"Down the road ... rate increases that we will get will have to be somewhat higher because of this," said Bell's president, James Thackery. 

And since Bell bought its 90 per cent of its phones from Northern Telecom, a company it owned, that could be bad for the Canadian economy.

"This really doesn't deal at all with the questions of Canadian jobs and Canadian manufacturing," said Thackery. "[It] has the potential of opening up the Canadian market to American, Japanese, Germans."

But the door to non-Bell phones had already been opened by specialty shops selling phones shaped like Mickey Mouse, and oyster shells.

Less than three weeks later, according to the Globe and Mail, a Bell spokesman said Bell customers' bills "may be in some circumstances be up more than 13 per cent."

The trend goes east   

Three years after Bell Telephone was forced to allow freedom of choice in phone equipment, another phone company follows suit. 1:39

Three years later, it looked as if customers of Maritime Telegraph and Telephone (MT&T) were going to be able to supply their own phones.

The phone company was just catching up to what people were already doing, reported the CBC's Phil Forgeron.

Flyers for stores like Radio Shack, K-Mart and Zellers showed multiple models available for purchase.

"Zellers recently sold thousands of a Far East model locally for under $20," said Forgeron. "Trouble is, everyone who bought them here in Nova Scotia either has a nice conversation piece or is using them illegally."

But if MT&T's request to the province's Public Utilities Board was granted, phone lines and phone equipment would become two separate services.

"Most phone companies in Canada are already doing that, some of them forced by a court decision," said Forgeron.

But MT&T, which was doing it voluntarily, proposed a charge of $11.65 monthly for a phone line and $1.40 a month for a phone it serviced. 

With new regulations, telephone users could go farther beyond the standard black rotary telephone. (1st Edition/CBC Archives)