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Landlines Are A Waste (Almost)

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Old Rotary PhoneThe Consumerist’s Chris Walters commented about a Slate article in which they found that landlines were now considered a luxury expense. With rising costs in everything else, land-lines were becoming useless and cut from the monthly budget. In the Slate article, writer Daniel Gross pinged the under-30 crowd at the offices of Slate and Newsweek and discovered that very few had home phones at all. Those who did used Skype.

Since college, I’ve never had a land-line telephone. In fact, I still have the 412 Pittsburgh cell phone number I had when I was in college. Number portability enabled me to migrate that number across four carriers (six if you count the AT&T Wireless to Cingular to AT&T Wireless merger-acquisition-spin-off merry-go-round) in five years. Landlines are dinosaurs on a mammalian planet. I don’t know how much a land-line costs nowadays but even the ubiquitous “triple play for $100” seems like you’re overpaying for the telephone.

However, I can think of three situations where you’d want (or be forced to have) a land-line:

Children. While your cell phone does get 911 service, hitting 9-1-1 and then the green Send or green phone button is one button more than the traditional land-line. This is, of course, worst case scenario and not particularly strong justification for paying $20/month but it’s certainly a consideration for some parents. This is also only a consideration for very young children, the age at which they shouldn’t and wouldn’t be left home alone anyway, so you’re really talking about scenarios in which the parents are incapacitated. Either way, I know that some parents have justified having a land-line for this very reason.

Security systems. Most security systems need a telephone line if you want it to communicate with the central station. Some newer systems can take advantage of wireless networks but most still rely on the old land-line. A land-line is one of the hidden costs of getting a security system, if you’re sold on or required to have central monitoring.

DSL. DSL is a digital subscriber line and it’s internet service across the phone system. Unless your provider offers naked DSL or dryloop DSL, you’ll be required to have phone service to get DSL.

Outside of those three cases, I don’t see the point of a land-line. Anyone have a land-line anymore?

(Photo: clemson)

{ 26 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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26 Responses to “Landlines Are A Waste (Almost)”

  1. Jason says:

    For safety and security reasons, I’ll never give up my landline. Landlines are independently powered, so in the event of an extended emergency, they are more likely to continue working as cell phones (and cell towers) shut down for lack of electricity. And a lot of natural disasters or terrorist events are more likely to knock out cell service than landlines. Even leaving aside these types of events, landlines work nearly 100% of the time, whereas cell networks seem much more fragile.

    And even if these things never happen, cell service is still often unreliable and of poor quality, even in major urban areas. I never struggle to be understood calling people on my landline, and I never struggle to understand people who call me from theirs.

    Not counting my voicemail service, I think my landline and local service only cost me about $15/mo. Pretty cheap insurance in my opinion.

  2. Kevin says:

    DirecTV also requires a phone line connection to their satellite receiver. That and DSL are the main reason we still have a landline.

    • Christine says:

      I have directv and did not need a land line?? I think you only need it if you want on-demand. I did have to get one for Verizon DSL but there is no charge for it and it’s a dedicated DSL line. I do think that in the event of an emergency, 911 can locate a call from a landline faster than a cell phone.

  3. lori says:

    Yes, for the DSL reason. Which kind of stinks because we only ever get called on it by telemarketers or charities and I’ve only ever dialed out on it to order pizza.

  4. CK says:

    DSL. I actually have no idea what my phone number is.

  5. miche says:

    We used Vonage for 5 years and recently went Skype-only. If you plug an old phone into a home landline, you should be able to call 911, assuming it’s still connected with the phone system.

    Works for us, our year-long skype subscriptions are around $100….so less than $10 a month now to make calls and have a “home phone” to give my kids schools.

  6. Glenn Lasher says:

    Here are a handful of random thoughts:

    I do still have a land line.

    I almost relinquished it in 2003, when, after a move, I had encountered some difficulty in convincing Verizon that they were charging me the wrong price (it was more than double what the very same phone number from the very same carrier had been costing me on the other side of the very same –very small– city, switched out of the very same central office). When they did admit error, though, they then helped me get an even better price than I had before, so I kept it ever since.

    I do use a fax machine (a post-2003 development in my case), so having a land line is indispensable there. Before knocking me for having a fax machine, I want you to consider all of the steps it takes to scan something, turn it to a PDF and email it, and compare that to the task of dropping the documents into a feeder and pressing no more than 13 buttons, then walking away from it as the machine does all the work. I don’t even have to boot up my computer for that.

    As DirecTV, Dish Network requires a land line phone in order to be able to process PPV purchases. I am a Dish Network subscriber. I’d guess that they must have some solution for no-wireline households, but I haven’t really investigated.

    While I have gotten “network busy” signals from a land line (this is what a fast busy signal means), it is super rare. During the 2003 northeast blackout, the wire line worked fine, but the cell phone was useless.

    I’m not saying they’re perfect. In 2001, the central office flooded, and we lost our land line service. Unfortunately, the cell networks almost immediately collapsed too, thanks to the added load.

    I have family who live in a remote area. One household in that group of homes has chosen to ditch the land line. You can never reach them, because they never have any service on their cell phones. They have to step outside and wander around to find the right spot to get that one bar so you can make a phone call.

    …so they’re not dead yet.

  7. Thistle says:

    I keep mine for
    emergency service during blackouts and brownouts – which are not-infrequent in summer
    and despite living in Brooklyn (high density, cell towers, sure, right?) I can’t get any cell service in my apartment.

    It’s worth it.

  8. Margaret says:

    If you live in apartment with anyone (room mate, significant other, etc) and the main door buzzes to a phone line.

    If you live by yourself of course, you could use your cell phone number, but when you’re sharing an apartment you need a land line.

  9. Glenn Lasher says:

    Addendum . . .

    A quick web crawl reveals that Dish Network charges $5/mo if you don’t connect the satellite receiver to a land line. They do this so that they can determine for sure whether all of the receivers under your account are, in fact, under your roof (they check the caller ID when the receiver calls in once a month) and not under the roof of friends/family, thus cheating them out of subscription revenue.

    PPV can still be ordered on-line or by phone, but they charge an additional fee per PPV event, in order to help encourage you to enable this check.

  10. Eden says:

    I went years without a landline when I lived in an apartment near the center of town (great cell coverage). Since moving to a house, a fair distance out of town, cell coverage is very inconsistent and sparse and ditching the land line is not an option at all. It’s amazing to me how poor cell phone coverage can still be after all of these years.

  11. BRCA1 says:

    Wow, I can’t be that old?! I don’t own a cell phone and haven’t found a reason to get one yet. I’m either at home or work or traveling to one of those places, in which case someone can leave me a message. I figure I don’t need the hassle of one more item to deal with. In fact a day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear or read someone complaining about their cell phone company. True, the same could be said of Bellsouth/At&t landlines but I guess I’ll stick with the devil I know. Oh and I have DSL and my landline costs $30-35/month and I’m 30yrs old.

  12. Marie says:

    We do not carry cell phones, savings ~$100 a month. Therefore we have a landline ~$25/month.

  13. Jimmy says:

    Am I old-fashioned, out-of-touch or what? I don’t live with a phone hanging off my ear. I don’t waste my time texting the world. Our family pays about $100/month on communications/Internet costs. We have a basic landline for 911, local calls & power failures. We have DSL, and use Skype and cellphones for long distance calls. I have no intentions of getting FIOS as we are not TV nuts.

  14. saladdin says:

    BRCA1 I am with you.

    Except I do not have a cell phone (and have never owned one) or a landline. I have never had this “emergency” I keep hearing about or have ever had trouble getting in touch with someone if I needed to. But everyone’s living situation is different.

    I have people at work complain about their bills as they text on their $100 a month phone that they paid $300 for.

    Cell phones are one of the things I hear people try to justify when talking about “bills” that they just have to have.


  15. Ed says:

    I have a landline because my wife won’t let me get rid of it. Just the line and caller-id (plus the multitude of taxes) is about $33/mo

  16. Chris says:

    JASON – Who are you going to call with your landline in an emergency, when all of the rest of us have cell phones?

    KEVIN – I have DirecTV and am not required to have a landline. No extra charge.

  17. fred@opc says:

    We recently signed up for the FIOS 3-in-1 service – not quite as reliable as a traditional landline, but it has a 7-day battery backup and is way more reliable than a cell. I like having 911 for the kids’ sake (were you thinking of me, Jim?)

    Cell phone batteries die and cell phones get lost — a few seconds in an emergency can be worth a lot – and a landline can give you that few seconds back.

    I do think that traditional phone service companies are going to need to get more competitive pricing; but at 30 bucks a month or so, I think its well worth it.

  18. Yup. I have DSL because I can’t afford cable–to get it, you have to bundle in TV services that I wouldn’t use. I’m just too cheap to pay for a hundred channels with nothing worth watching, and besides, I hardly ever have time to watch television anyway.

    The land line is cheap, and I know it will function when the dratted cell phone doesn’t. Long-distance calls are very inexpensive–nothing compared to even the most basic cell phone service–and there’s no limit after which you get gouged extra per-minute fees. A land-line phone doesn’t have a battery to run down, and when you dial 911, someone answers promptly (not so, I’ve found, with the cell!!) and the dispatcher knows where you are. When the phone rings you can hear it and find it. You’re not likely to lose it or have it stolen. And it doesn’t follow you around jangling at you when you’re in a car or trying to have dinner at a nice restaurant.

    If you’re not into texting or yakking about your personal business in public, a cell phone is a weak alternative to a land line. The only reason I have one is that I have a long commute over freeways and pay telephones are no longer widely available–I felt I was forced to get a cell for safety reasons, to be able to call for help if my car breaks down. If I worked closer to home, I wouldn’t have one.

  19. Jae says:

    My office manager keeps a land line for her 3 year old daughter, who hasn’t memorized their home address (they’ve moved numerous times in the past 2 years anyways). With a land line, they instantly know your address. Not true with cell. Anyways, she knows how to dial 911, but doesn’t know what to say.

  20. NickFro says:

    There is at least one company out there that does central alarm system monitoring via the Internet. They provide a relabeled Cisco VoIP adapter which connects to one of several dozen supported alarm systems and monitor that way. Their in-house brand even provides real time monitoring via a web interface and allows for remote control of the system. Of course, if your internet connection drops, the central station won’t get any signals, so it’s not perfect… but it works and allows you to continue to forgo the expense of a landline…

  21. JB says:

    I’m trying to think how much a lan-line would be worth to me. I don’t think I’d even pay $5 a month ($60 a year) for one. Maybe $2, but even that’s a stretch. As a 25-year-old male, I think it’s fairly common for my demographic.

    I’ve been a cell-phone only kid since college, since I move a lot. It’s not a cheap plan – $35 a month – but the added mobility is worth it. Having both is redundant. Plus the only people that call on my parents LAN line are spam solicitors and political polls anyway.

  22. DaveB says:

    Our landline bill is under $30 a month, and generally closer to $25. Because my wife’s family is in Canada, there aren’t any cell plans with long-distance that would make a cell-phone worth while.

    Our total phone bill consists of our land-line, a pre-paid cell-phone that is mostly used like a pager two calling cards for cheap minutes in the states and to Canada.

    Our yearly bills are definitely lower than what my wife used to pay for her cell-phone service before we got married, and we don’t have to worry about if we are overstepping our limits on the number of minutes. We even have the convenience of having both a home line and an emergency cell-phone at our disposal.

  23. JR says:

    Yes, I have a landline. I just got it. And if I had my druthers, I would have only a landline.

    I pay $25 a month for a basic landline from Verizon, I have it because I like to hear people when I call. Phone quality matters to me more than the 8,000 applications on cell phones these days. I prefer to make or take important calls on the landline, by far. I have the cell phone mostly for when I need to meet up with people (finding people in crowds).

    All of that makes me unusual for people my age (I’m 28), but I lived without a cell for the first 22 years of my life, some of that in boarding school where there were only a couple of payphones and someone had to come down to your room to tell you if you had a call. We all somehow survived.

  24. aua868s says:

    I started to use cellphone in USA when I was getting ready to leave grad school…have never felt the need for a landline after that..

  25. rc says:

    When you are ready to end landline forever- At&T will switch yr landline to be yr cell# for free. Other carriers prob. do too.

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