They adorn the ends of Cat5 network patch cables and the flat satin cables that come with all-in-one printers that we generally either toss in the scrap bin or throw away altogether. The blocky rectangular plugs, molded of clear plastic and holding gold-plated contacts, are known broadly as modular connectors. They and their socket counterparts have become ubiquitous components of the connected world over the last half-century or so, and unsurprisingly they had their start where so many other innovations began: from the need to manage the growth of the telephone network and reduce costs. Here’s how the modular connector got that way. For the first 80 years or so of the US telephone network, the Bell Company called all the shots. They owned absolutely every bit of equipment in the system – the wires on the poles, the switchgear in the central offices, microwave links, and even the phone sets in customer homes. They had complete control over every aspect of the delivery of their services, and used their monopoly to build an incredibly integrated and durable system. But with great power comes great responsibility, or in the case of a complex technological system prone to breakdown ...