The evil empire of the Soviet Union is gone and we overthrew the evil regime of Saddam Hussein but what about the evil empires we have right here in America? I’m thinking of the phone company.

Recently, I had to move my office a block north from my old location and the first call I made was to the phone company. They agreed to switch my three lines. Moving day went without a hitch, with the exception of my phones being dead. Well, they weren’t all the way dead ” they just wouldn’t take incoming calls.

I made many outgoing calls to the phone company. Each time I had to navigate their maddening phone menu to get to a human being. Two giants had merged, SBC and AT&T but they weren’t quite on the same page yet. They kept asking me if I was part of the “new” AT&T or the “old” AT&T. At this point, my cell phone dropped to the floor and split in half. My last link with civilization was severed.

Speaking of civilization, remember the old “Ma Bell” phone company? The government broke it up because it was an empire but at least it wasn’t evil. It provided adequate service and didn’t gouge its customers too deeply. Dismantling it was like bringing down the Ottoman Empire ” it Balkanized phone service.

Those were heady days, when you got daily phone calls asking you to switch to a new improved company. I tried a bunch of these fly-by-night companies but they charged too much. So, I went back to good old AT&T.

In calling AT&T, it’s not fair to take out your frustrations on the human you reach after twenty minutes of phone menu-ing but I found myself shouting at the woman. Four days after the move, my phones still weren’t working. Anyway, just before this woman hung up on me, she muttered, “Get an electrician.”

So, I followed her advice and hired a local company. It turns out the phone company only brings your wires to your new location but doesn’t hook them up to the phones.

Which brings me to my point. The government has been on a de-regulation kick for a long time. They say that removing pesky government rules will save companies money, so they’ll pass on the savings to their customers. That hasn’t happened yet. It didn’t happen with big energy companies like Enron and it’s not happening with big oil companies.

What we get are large companies combining into giant ones, with a rise in rates and a decline in service. Before we consider deregulating more industries, let’s remember how it was during “pre-regulation.” Monopolies and trusts ruled the country. Consumers had no choice, workers had no voice and these corporations destabilized the economy.

Maybe the next time we vote, we could choose leaders who believe in government regulation and oversight. In the meantime, if you’re planning to move your phones, make sure you get an electrician. And if you come across any pieces of my cell phone, call me.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.