A few days ago, I wrote a column that criticized the Bell System. Reaction has been lively, but not entirely what I guessed it would be.

Some readers defended Ma Bell and some said I wasn't critical enough. That much I could have predicted. But I also would have guessed that a Bell System official would get in touch with a Washington Post official and ask why anything as biased and ignorant as the District Line was permitted in the paper.

That didn't happen. Instead, the company spokesman phoned me not my bosses. And he didn't call me either biased or ignorant.

He conceded that the problems I had written about were all too real. "We're concerned about reassigning numbers too soon," he said, "and about out-of-order lines that give the caller a busy signal rather than a signal that tells him there's trouble on the line. Let's have lunch so I cand tell you what our thinking is on some of the points you covered."

It may take this night worker and that day worker a long time to agree on a proper hour for eating lunch. Nevertheless, what we have here is an interest in attacking the problems rather than the newsman who wrote about them. This is worth noting because it is not always the way American corporations operate.

Meanwhile, I have already received seven letters from people who have spent time abroad and have an opportunity to compare Ma Bell's system to those one finds in foreign countries.

All seven have the same message for me: The Bell System may not be perfect, but it is so far ahead of whatever is in second place that there's no point in even discussing the matter.

John R. Twark of Derwood, Md., had a special reason for giving his views on the Bell System. "I received a call from a sweet young lady at C&P recently," John reported. "She told me that a C&P audit had discovered that for the past seven years the company has been overcharging me for telephone service, so I would be getting a refund of $209.61. And a few days later, I received the money."

When I mentioned John's report to an acquintance who dislikes the Bell System with a passion, he sneered. "If they're so good," he asked, "how come they made the error in the first place? And how many other overcharges go unnoticed, with no refunds ever being made?"

He may have a point, but may own reaction is that C&P's voluntary refund is a mark of honesty and good intentions. Gerald Strine, who writes about thoroughbreds for this newspaper, might use the jargon of the race track and say, "That showed me some class."

Mrs. LaRue Coughlan of Manassas doesn't have to sample phone service in Paris or Rome to have a high regard for the Bell System. She says she is served (if that is the proper word) by Continental Telephone of Virginia.

"We had moved here from California, and had been assigned our Manassas phone number for seven weeks," she writes, "when my sister in Salt Lake tried to reach me by telephone." Another member of the family was going to have to undergo open-heart surgery, and Mrs. Coughlan's sister wanted to get word of this development to her as quickly as possible.

So the sister in Utah called Directory Assistance for Mrs. Coughlan's number. The operator in Manassas said she had no listing for anybody of that name and asked, "How long have they had the telephone?

When the operator was told the phone had been installed seven weeks earlier, she said, "Ah hah! That explains it. We don't record new listings for local distribution for six to eight weeks. The period for national distribution is from eight to ten weeks."

The sister in Utah finally called a relative in California and obtained the Coughlan number. Later, Mrs. Coughlan called Continental to verify the accuracy of what had been told to her sister. "Yup," was the reply. "That is so."

Mrs. Coughlan thereupon "registered dismay" at such creaky and inadequate service. This drew the unresponsive response, "Continental is the second-largest telephone company in the country."

The advertisements say that Number 2 "tries harder," but the statement stops so abruptly it becomes a one dimensiona1 comparative. Harder that what? Harder than Number 1 -or Number 3?


"You're only young once," notes Bob Orben. "That's why kids buy enough records to last them until they're 85."