Bell Operating Company

Definition of Bell Operating Company

A Bell Operating Company (BOC) is a term for regional telephone companies that were formerly part of the Bell System, a monopoly owned by American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in the United States. These companies were divested from AT&T and broken into separate entities after the monopoly was dismantled in a 1984 antitrust lawsuit. BOCs, often referred to as “Baby Bells,” provide local telephone services within their designated regions.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Bell Operating Company” is:Bell: /bɛl/Operating: /ˈɒpəreɪtɪŋ/Company: /ˈkʌmp(ə)ni/In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for the entire term: /bɛl ˈɒpəreɪtɪŋ ˈkʌmp(ə)ni/

Key Takeaways

  1. Bell Operating Company, also known as the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), was created as a result of the breakup of AT&T’s monopoly in 1984, leading to the formation of seven independent regional companies to provide local telephone services in the United States.
  2. These seven companies were created to promote competition and improve service quality within the telecommunications industry, ultimately benefiting the customers by offering more choices, improved technology, and cost-effective products.
  3. Over the years, Bell Operating Companies have gone through various mergers and acquisitions, with the current major descendants being AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink, which continue to dominate the telecommunication landscape in the United States.

Importance of Bell Operating Company

The term “Bell Operating Company” (BOC) is important in the technology and telecommunications industries because it refers to the original regional telephone companies that were created after the divestiture of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1984.

Also known as “Baby Bells,” these companies were established as a result of an antitrust lawsuit aimed at dismantling the AT&T monopoly to promote competition in the telecommunications market.

The breakup led to the formation of seven independent BOCs responsible for providing local telephone services in different regions of the United States.

Over time, these BOCs have gone through mergers, acquisitions, and rebranding but still play a crucial role in shaping the American telecommunications landscape, by offering a diverse range of communications services, innovations, and fostering competitive dynamics in the industry.


The Bell Operating Company (BOC), also known as the Baby Bells, has played a critical role in the development of telecommunication services in the United States over the last few decades. The primary purpose of a Bell Operating Company is to provide local exchange carrier (LEC) services while maintaining and managing the local telecommunication infrastructure.

Their responsibility is to ensure that the customers enjoy a seamless connection, featuring top-notch call quality and accessibility of core services, such as numerous telephone lines, the broadband internet, and other essential telecommunications offerings. As the existing monopolies in the Bell System were dismantled under the Modified Final Judgment (MFJ) in 1984, the Baby Bells were responsible for taking over the local telecommunication exchange services.

In doing so, they fostered competition while ensuring that customers retained access to affordable and quality telecommunication services. Additionally, the Bell Operating Companies have been instrumental in driving telecommunication innovation—such as the wider adoption of wireless technology, expanding broadband services, and the evolution of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)—by establishing interconnections with other service providers.

Examples of Bell Operating Company

American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T): AT&T, founded in 1885 as American Bell Telephone Company, was the first Bell Operating Company (BOC). It played a crucial role in revolutionizing telecommunications in the United States. AT&T was responsible for providing long-distance telephone service and managing the regional Bell Operating Companies after the breakup of the Bell System in

Today, AT&T continues to be a leading provider of telecommunications, media, and technology services.

Verizon Communications: Verizon Communications, formerly known as Bell Atlantic Corporation, was one of the seven regional BOCs that emerged from the break-up of the Bell System. Bell Atlantic was created in 1984 and provided local telephone services to customers in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic US. In 2000, Bell Atlantic merged with GTE to form Verizon Communications. Verizon now operates as a multinational company, providing wireless communications, broadband and Internet services, and other related services globally.

Southwestern Bell Corporation (SBC Communications/AT&T Inc.): Southwestern Bell Corporation was another regional BOC formed after the breakup of the Bell System in

Southwestern Bell initially served customers in the Southwestern United States and expanded its operations through a series of acquisitions, including Pacific Telesis, Ameritech, and BellSouth. In 2005, SBC Communications (formerly Southwestern Bell) acquired its former parent company, AT&T Corp, and adopted the name AT&T Inc. The company continues to provide telecommunications services such as voice, data, and Internet services across the US and worldwide.

Bell Operating Company FAQ

What is a Bell Operating Company?

A Bell Operating Company, also known as a BOC or Baby Bell, refers to any of the regional telephone companies that were spun off from the original AT&T Bell System after the United States vs. AT&T antitrust lawsuit in 1984. These companies provided local telephone services within their assigned regions.

How many Bell Operating Companies were originally created?

Originally, there were seven Bell Operating Companies formed after the breakup of the AT&T Bell System. These companies were Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, NYNEX, Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell, and US West.

What happened to the original Bell Operating Companies?

Over the years, the original Bell Operating Companies have undergone various mergers and acquisitions. As a result, many of these companies have been consolidated into larger telecommunications corporations. Currently, the primary successors of the original Baby Bells are AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications, and Lumen Technologies (previously known as CenturyLink).

What services did the Bell Operating Companies provide?

The Bell Operating Companies primarily provided local telephone services, including residential and business lines, within their designated regions. Additionally, they also offered services related to communications infrastructure, such as the installation of telephone lines and the maintenance of telephone exchanges.

Why was the Bell System divested?

The Bell System was divested as a result of an antitrust lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice against AT&T. The aim of the divestiture was to break AT&T’s monopoly on telecommunication services and promote competition in the industry. It resulted in the separation of AT&T’s local telephone services into the seven regional Bell Operating Companies.

Related Technology Terms

  • Regional Bell Operating Company (RBOC)
  • Local Exchange Carrier (LEC)
  • AT&T Divestiture
  • Telecommunications Act of 1996
  • Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC)

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