The Passing of an Age: The End of PSTN


Back in November of 2012 AT&T quietly petitioned the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to formally and fully retire the old traditional PSTN (that’s Publicly Switched Telephone Network to you) and clear the way for the new IP-based (Internet Protocol) telephone network.

None of this should come as any surprise, for PSTN is increasingly becoming more and more to difficult to maintain: the old-time switches are outdated, fewer and fewer personnel are trained to understand how such systems work (although I’m certain that a number of avowed ‘hobbyists’ would be happy to assist!) and thus AT&T feels – and arguably so – that it’s time to pull up the lines and move on. Everyone’s using cell phones, cable and FIO’s networks more and more and thus the need for the traditional PSTN is becoming less a priority then twenty some years ago (

It is the passing of an age.

The PSTN brings back memories of midnight dumpster diving – seeking out access numbers and codes; of playing with payphones (calling their numbers and through a series of codes, accessing their secrets and access points) along with using conference call routines for free calls, both domestically and internationally – along with a whole endless load of other hi-jinks.

The PSTN was a training school: a very large classroom reaching across thousands of miles where, for a few tricks and routines, you’d be able to join in the fun and explore regardless of who you were (I’ll never forget visiting one of the old-time cool BBS’s and seeing a messages from “Shark” who’d posted a message, ‘Now that I got my Amiga I can spill my brains all over the place!’ – and this from a connection Shark obtained via the Citibank branch in Paris!). The PSTN was the place where techno-festishists with serious nihilistic bents would hang out and see who could go the farthest and the fastest with a coolness and casual bent.

PSTN was where some of the best and brightest would be found.

Well before the days of the Internet or the World Wide Web, you had Telnet and PTSN: there wasn’t a whole lot else going down. With a lineman’s handset, the world was your oyster: you’d learn how to Brownbox, Cheesebox, Greenbox, Bluebox or Red Box the system to your advantage, depending on what you’d wanted to do.

And some would get a little cute: as but one example, you’d go to the nearest Rat Shack (that’s Radio Shack to you) and get some diodes, one of their (now discontinued – and for good reason!) automatic callers and viola! Free and unlimited phone calls! Beat using those old long distance calling cards: you’d just make sure you’d avoid using the same phone over and over,…

Somehow, I’ll never fully believe that the PTSN will be completely down: given it’s size and scope, I’m certain they’ll probably be isolated reaches out there still operating. Like The Road Warrior, it will always be out there – perhaps in some remote deserted areas, or within some dark and dank urban landscapes, there will always be a half-abandoned, derelict payphone, standing there, ringing out into the night waiting for somebody to pick up and listen in to the line, with the fun still going on…

PS: if any of you are wondering why there’s a picture of Captain Crunch in this blog, feel free to contact me – otherwise, it’s something you either know or don’t.

But it still doesn’t hurt to ask and explore – and in that vitally important vein, that’s why some things never will – nor should – ever change,…!


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