We often mention how few people have land lines anymore — in a TreeHugger poll, only 10 percent of those younger than 35 did — but how many people out there still have rotary phones? Not many.

About 40 years ago, when touchtone phones were introduced, Bell Telephone Company of Canada charged customers $2.80 a month for the fancy feature. And it turns out the company is still doing it.

Consumer columnist Ellen Roseman of The Star in Toronto is not impressed and wants it scrapped.

Without a touch-tone phone, you can’t carry on business with the world. Most large companies have replaced human operators with automated menus that try (often unsuccessfully) to route your call to the right place. Since customers have no other choices, touch tone shouldn’t be treated as an optional feature. That seems arbitrary and unfair.

phone table and phoneA 1930 phone table, a 1968 phone and a 2001 phone book. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Roseman implies that nobody knows about this charge. In fact, lots of people do, and lots of people with seasonal places keep them because that $2.80 adds up. I have a little monument to past phone tech in my cabin, with a telephone table — an actual piece of furniture that belonged to my wife's grandmother and was designed for talking on the phone. It has a shelf for a phone book and a place on top for the phone.

contempra phoneIt's really a line for moms. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

The phone itself is a design classic, the Contempra phone designed in 1968 by the great Canadian industrial designer John Tyson. (This is my second one, bought at the Goodwill; my first bright orange version stopped working.) According to DW2:

Tyson was the first industrial designer hired by Northern Electric at the start of its independent life as a Canadian firm, after the end of Northern Telecom’s ten-year licensing agreement with its American parent, Western Electric. R C Scrivener, then-president of Bell Canada, said of the project – “We could have adopted, as we have in the past, an American design. They have excellent models with many of the same features. But we thought we should produce our own.”

Dreyfuss designing phoneHow do they get that teeny dial to work? (Photo: AT&T)

Tyson did import one feature from American phones; Henry Dreyfuss had trouble fitting a whole dial into a handset and came up with the clever idea to remove the space between the 0 and the 1. He designed a movable finger stop. That's how the phone on the right in the photo above got so skinny. I digress, but really, the history of phones is so interesting.

Of course I could save even more money by just killing the landline. I use Skype and my iPhone most of the time anyway. We kept the landline around for our moms; that's no longer necessary, and I will probably do that at the end of this summer. But I will miss that rotary phone.

THIS JUST IN: After a lot of press coverage and complaining, the phone company has removed the touch-tone fee from the bill and rolled it into the cost of a landline, so everyone is paying the same as they did before but they don't see it as a separate charge. Evidently I will still pay the lower rate, because in fact a touch-tone phone doesn't work on the line. At the Huffington Post, one person complaining about the charge asked, "Do you know anyone who has a rotary phone?" Good question; I will ask the same thing. Please click here to go to a poll.

Related on MNN and TreeHugger:

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

In Canada, people still pay extra for the privilege of owning a touch-tone phone
If you know about that secret charge it just might be worth your while to keep a dial phone.