"You charge how much per megabyte?"
“You charge how much per megabyte?”

As is well known, the only thing that separates us from the animals is the tiny amount of data mobile phone companies provide us on a monthly allowance. Before tipping us upside down to shake out a few more pennies. We’re looking at you Telstra.

But this did make us wonder what the first telephone contracts in Perth looked like. As it happens, we have a copy in front of us. If you’d signed up in 1887 to be one of the first subscribers to this exciting new technology, you first had to agree to the following.

Calls were not charged individually, but there was a subscription of fee of £15 a year if you lived within 800m of the Perth or Fremantle exchange, and an extra 25 shillings for each additional 400m you needed further away. For your money, you would be provided with one telephone and a connection to the exchange. A bell cost extra.

It’s not easy to say how much money £15 a year would be today, but you could rent a cottage in Bunbury for the same amount. If you wanted to live in Bunbury, of course. If.

Whether you lived in Perth or Fremantle, you were allowed to talk to someone in the other city. Which is nice. Except under the fair use policy, no call between Perth and Fremantle could exceed five minutes.

Oh, and you could only call between 9am and 6pm on weekdays, 9am to 1pm on Saturday, and not at all on Sundays or public holidays.

A subscriber could not allow their telephone to be used by anyone else except their own personal servants. That is, unless the borrower had a telephone at their own residence.

Finally, there was the usual legalise you would expect:

No responsibility is assumed by the Government for any errors, omissions, or delay in the transmission or non-transmission, delivery or non-delivery, of any message, arising from any cause whatsoever.

No mention of a data allowance anywhere, or what happens if you want to upgrade to the latest iPhone. Probably in the small print somewhere.