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“The stock price fell 123 points after someone coughed on the trading floor.”

~ Peter North on Canadian Hotels

Nortel Networks Corporation, formerly known as Northern Telecom Limited and sometimes known simply as Nortel, was a multinational telecommunications equipment manufacturer headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. A stock market pyramid scam of the late 20th Century, Nortel was once rated as Canada's largest corporation, trading at $124. It slumped to $0.67. Compare to Enron and Worldcom.


So who is Nortel?[edit]

While some have been led to believe (in the aftermath of the Bay Networks takeover) that Nortel is some sort of high-tech company, Nortel's primary rôle is the manufacture of payphones with no actual coin-return button.

Nortel (aka Northern Electric, Northern Telecom) used to be owned in part by the local 'phone company, occupying a place similar to that of AT&T's Western Electric. The distinctive "Number, please?" heard when turning the crank on a Canadian telephone wouldn't be possible without Northern Electric technology.

The phone phreaks[edit]

By the 1970's, telcos were dealing with the question of how to trace and track down phone phreaks - tinkerers seemingly in competition to see which could spend the most dollars inventing and manufacturing some-colour boxes which would simulate the sound of a dime or quarter being dropped into a pay 'phone in order to rip off the 'phone company for as much as twenty-five cents.

As 'phone companies are greedy li'l vultures, they turned to manufacturers for assistance. They had heard that in Soviet Russia, pay 'phones put slug in you, and wanted to see if the same reversal which worked in Siberia, Russia could be made to work in Scarberia in the wilderness of Canada.

Nortel's solution was simple but evil. Build a 'phone with fancy electroluminescent dot-matrix screens, a built-in fake dialtone generator so that all of the phone phreak tones were blatantly ignored, a "please deposit twenty-five cents" voice synthesiser and a coin mechanism with no coin return button. This device, introduced as the Millenium Phortress and later nicknamed the Centurion, allowed telcos to turn the tables by keeping massive quantities of coin every time the mechanism jammed while providing nothing in return.

The speculators[edit]

The first year, Nortel pocketed twenty-five cents from the scheme, the next year fifty cents. The year after that, the take from this ruse was up to a dollar. With profits doubling every year, would-be investors got greedy and stock speculation drove Nortel over $100 a share. The telco took this opportunity to divest itself of its Nortel stock and buy out the entire Canadian media in order to rewrite history and prevent anyone from finding out what had really happened to all of those lost coins.

See also[edit]