The Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC) are the result of United States v. AT&T, the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust suit against the former American Telephone & Telegraph Company (later known as AT&T Corp.). On January 8, 1982, AT&T Corp. settled the suit and agreed to divest its local exchange service operating companies. Effective January 1, 1984, AT&T Corp.'s local operations were split into seven independent Regional Bell Operating Companies known as "Baby Bells". RBOCs were originally known as Regional Holding Companies (RHCs). Currently, three companies have the RBOCs as predecessors. They are AT&T Inc., Verizon, and CenturyLink. Some other companies are holding on smaller segments of the companies.
After the Modification of Final Judgment, the resulting Baby Bells were originally:Ameritech
Prior to 1984, AT&T Corp. also held investments in two smaller and otherwise independent companies, Cincinnati Bell and Southern New England Telephone (SNET). Following the 1984 breakup, these became fully independent as well. All nine local-exchange holding companies were assigned a share of the rights to the Bell trademark.
After divestiture, AT&T Corp. was prohibited from using the Bell name or logo (with the notable exception of AT&T's Bell Laboratories) and those trademarks which would be shared by the RBOCs and the two companies AT&T partially owned. Since the BellSouth acquisition, Cincinnati Bell has been the only former AT&T associated company still carrying the "Bell" name.
Additionally, Bell Canada, the former Bell Telephone Company of Canada (founded in 1880) and which started separating from the Bell System in 1956, and completely by 1975, continues to use the "Bell" trademarks, which it owns outright in Canada.
Verizon continues to use the Bell logo on its payphones (including former GTE payphones), hard hats, trucks, and buildings likely intending to display continued use in order to maintain the company's trademark rights. Malheur Bell, an autonomous local phone company owned by Qwest, used the Bell name and logo until its merger into Qwest in 2009.
Apart from historical documents, AT&T does not presently make active use of the Bell marks. Its local exchange companies have retained the "Bell" names; however, they have been doing business under other names since 2002. They do maintain web domain names with most of the older Bell names (such as OhioBell.com) which all rollover to the AT&T website. Many of these names are still listed with the US Patent and Trademark Office as current trademarks, since these names are still considered in use.
Many of these companies have since merged; by the end of 2000, there were only three of the original Baby Bells left in the United States. After the 1984 breakup, part of AT&T Corp.'s Bell Labs was split off into Bellcore, which would serve as an R&D and standards body for the seven Baby Bells. In 1997, Bellcore was acquired by Science Applications International Corporation where it became a wholly owned subsidiary and was renamed Telcordia.
Southwestern Bell Corporation, which changed its name to SBC Communications in 1995, acquired Pacific Telesis in 1997, SNET in 1998, and Ameritech in 1999. In February 2005, SBC announced its plans to acquire former parent company AT&T Corp. for over $16 billion. SBC took on the AT&T name upon merger closure on November 18, 2005. SBC began trading as AT&T Inc. on December 1, 2005 but began re-branding as early as November 21. In 2006 AT&T Inc. purchased BellSouth.
In 1997, NYNEX was acquired by Bell Atlantic (taking the Bell Atlantic name), which later, in 2000, acquired GTE, the largest independent telephone company, and renamed itself Verizon.
In 2005, following a protracted bidding war with rival RBOC Qwest, Verizon announced that it would acquire long distance company MCI. The Verizon and MCI merger closed on January 6, 2006.
CenturyLink was originally Century Telephone (CenturyTel), and took its current name in 2009 when it acquired Embarq, the former local operations of Sprint Nextel, which also includes the former operations of Centel. The company, as CenturyTel, had acquired some Wisconsin Bell lines from Ameritech in 1998.
CenturyLink announced in April 2010 it would buy Qwest for US$10.6 billion. The deal was completed April 2011. In August 2011, the Qwest branding was retired and replaced by that of CenturyLink. Qwest, a Denver-based fiber optics long-distance company, had taken over US West in 2000.
The former independent Bell System franchisee Cincinnati Bell, which was not part of the 1984 divestiture because AT&T held only a minority stake in the company, remains independent of the RBOCs.
FairPoint Communications, an independent provider based in North Carolina, acquired Northern New England Telephone Operations. NNETO is an operating company split from the original New England Telephone to serve access lines in Maine and New Hampshire. The sale of these lines by Verizon to FairPoint closed in 2008. Telephone Operating Company of Vermont, a company created following FairPoint's acquisition, is an operating company wholly owned by Northern New England Telephone Operations. Both companies are regulated as Bell Operating Companies by the FCC.
In 2010, Frontier Communications acquired Frontier West Virginia, one of the original Bell Operating Companies formerly known as "The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company of West Virginia", in a larger deal including some former GTE companies with Verizon Communications. In December 2013, AT&T agreed to sell SNET to Frontier, with the sale closing in the second half of 2014.