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The Decline of the Landline 435

Death Metal writes "The phone network is thus not just a technical infrastructure, but a socioeconomic one. The more Americans abandon it to go mobile-only or make phone calls over the Internet, the more fragile it becomes: its high fixed costs have to be spread over ever fewer subscribers. If the telephone network in New York State were a stand-alone business, it would already be in bankruptcy. In recent years it has lost 40% of its landlines and revenues have dropped by more than 30%."
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The Decline of the Landline

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  • why would you ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:05PM (#29121939)
    ... keep your landline? we ended up disconnecting our landline ... we were getting charged like $70 for unlimited long distance, the whole 9 yards ... instead we now have a $70 cell phone plan that also has unlimited long distance, the whole 9 yards ... plus I can text message, play games, surf the net, and most importantly it's mobile. I can take it wherever I want. Why would you keep your landline? If you really think you need one, I suggest getting cell phone and duct-taping it to your wall!
    • by Drakin020 ( 980931 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:07PM (#29121989)

      One compelling reason is quality. For instance, I had some job interviews recently, and I'd never do an interview over a cell phone. You worry about the calls cutting out, cuts here and there in the quality, and not being able to hear a question over the phone just looks bad.

    • Re:why would you ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cro Magnon ( 467622 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:08PM (#29122017) Homepage Journal

      Why do I keep my landline?

      My security alarm needs it
      The sound quality is far better than any cell I've ever had
      During my 5 day power outage, my landline still worked

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Yes, to all of the above.

        Another big one is comfort. Talking on a cell phone, even the best high-end models, for very long is just uncomfortable for me. Cell phones are fine for quick "Hi, honey, I'm at the grocery and I can't remember if we're out of butter" calls, but with friends and family scattered all over the country, I spend a lot of time on one- or two-hour calls and I've never used a cell phone that I can tolerate for that long. I can't believe I'm the only person who finds this to be so.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ckaminski ( 82854 )
          Buy a good headset. With a decent plantronics headset I can talk for 14 hours straight (not that I like to). Even my wired phones I use a headset. I hate holding a phone. I need both my hands for typing and mousing.
        • I can't believe I'm the only person who finds this to be so.

          You're not. []

        • I can only speak for myself here, but I don't typically have two-hour-long calls to family scattered throughout the country. I have a family forum, email, IM, and if I want something personal rather than plain text, there's video chat (though not everyone in the family has that capability... yet).

          Even the oldest generation still alive (in their 80s) have email, and in the next generation down (50s and 60s) you start to see video chat. With the 20-somethings, they'll get annoyed if you try to engage them

          • Your family seems more technologically advanced than most. Neither my mom nor my aunt have email, or even a computer. But I rarely do long phone calls either.

          • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

            With the 20-somethings, they'll get annoyed if you try to engage them in a long phone conversation because they're more comfortable with IM.

            I just don't get that. It's so ass-backwards it's ridiculous. It's like calling sending someone an email and getting an irritated reply asking you to send all future correspondence by Western Union Telegram.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by mrdoogee ( 1179081 )
              Until they work out how to put the camera behind the screen, video chat will always bug me. I cannot stand that both parties always seem to be looking slightly downward the whole conversation.
        • Get yourself one of these [] and you will be set.
        • Many people can buy a naked DSL now as an unadvertised option, though it isn't always as good a deal
          Most security alarms can be set up for internet communication to HDQ
          Sound quality I think depends a lot on your carrier/handset/reception. At its best, I think cell calls are better than landline, but at its worst they aren't too good. Landlines in the US are generally consistiently good quality.
          Did your cell quit working over the 5 day power outage? If your battery just ran down, why don't you get a small
      • You cell phone quits when you lose power? How does that work?

        • by jidar ( 83795 )

          The cell towers need power. They usually have a battery system that can keep them going for a few hours, but most cell towers do not have backup generators. During serious power outages that affect a very large area it's not unusual for cell phones to not work.

        • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

          When the CO loses power, you have, at best, 72 hours of service. If you lose the CO, you lose the whole enchilada. With a Cell Phone, I can put it on a car-charger, laptop charger, or primary cell based "emergency" charger and be back up.

          Six of one, half dozen of another, actually. When Katrina did in the areas she did, which was up and up and running faster? And you'd have to nail a lot more sites and not be able to roll in CoW trailers/trucks to not end up with service.

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          That's the case at my house. I don't have a cell, but if my wife wants to use hers the first step is to plug the thing in to charge. For trips, I'm sure to plug the charger into the cigarette lighter 'cuz I know it's going to be dead. I'm sure I'm not alone here...

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:35PM (#29122505) Homepage

        Can't audio data from cell phones be sent and received in mp3 format? It would improve quality immeasurably by using a digital format like this surely?

        • Re:why would you ... (Score:4, Informative)

          by colinnwn ( 677715 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @03:49PM (#29124039)
          There are streaming digital formats specifically designed to carry the human voice clearly, with low latency, at obscenely low bitrates. As another poster said, MP3 is a terrible format for this. The problem is telecoms have lowered the bitrates beyond the prudent level for decent quality, so they can squeeze ever more calls onto the same pipe.
      • If you live in the United States (or several other countries), you can probably get "naked" DSL without phone service. That's not to deny that there are good reasons to keep your land line, but FYI.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        We had a 7 day outage at my place, the cell phones worked the whole time. Car chargers and AA to cell chargers rock.

      • Re:why would you ... (Score:5, Informative)

        by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <digitalunity AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:40PM (#29122609) Homepage

        You don't need voice service on your landline for DSL. If Qwest told you this(they tried to tell me this), they lied.

        Newer GE Security alarms support cellular networks, although this does increase your monthly monitoring bill by $30 or more.

        Got me there, hard line voice quality is very good. As for reliability, I've never had a long term outage on any cell carrier or a land line so I can't differentiate the two.

      • In most markets you dont need a phone for DSL. You can get a dry loop.

        >My security alarm needs it

        Why cant it use wifi or why cant they provide their own communications? I shouldnt have to pay 40-50 dollars a month just in case my security system needs it. Sounds like a problem with the security company's lack of innovation.

        >The sound quality is far better than any cell I've ever had

        With a headset I cant tell the different between landline and voip/cell, unless there is static or some other connectivit

      • DSL (Score:3, Informative)

        by dontPanik ( 1296779 )
        I'd like to comment on DSL. A lot of people are saying "get naked DSL", and you can certainly do that, but nonetheless the infrastructure of phone lines still needs to remain in place for people to get DSL. The article doesn't address this at all and I think they should. Maybe the infrastructure will remain for the use of DSL.
      • You forgot 911. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by antdude ( 79039 )

        Read this article []. Basically, 911 system wasn't designed for cellular/cell phones.

    • ... keep your landline? we ended up disconnecting our landline ...

      The only reason I had a land line for the longest time was the alarm system. Now you can get those wireless too these days and I got upgraded to wireless system which is cell phone based so we finally got rid of the old land line.

      Which is superior because now we don't have to worry about the neighbors tree knocking it out anymore or someone trying to cut the phone cord before breaking in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PhillC ( 84728 )

      As far as the whole 9 yards goes, I've just re-instated a landline number after attempting to live without one for the last 2 months. Why? Because suddenly my mobile bills rocketed! I live in the UK and make a lot of calls to Ireland, Australia, continental Europe and the US. These aren't business calls, these are personal calls to friends around the world. Going back to a landline is a whole lot cheaper in these cases.

      Yes, I could have purchased a cheap rate call card and used that from my mobile, however

  • Land Lines (Score:5, Informative)

    by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:05PM (#29121953) Journal

    I might have kept a landline, if it weren't for the fact that the only calls that I ever got on it were Telemarketers.

    • by wcrowe ( 94389 )

      Actually telemarketers is the main reason I have kept my land line. I am afraid that if I started using my cell phone for all my calls, that I will soon be inundated with calls I don't want.

      I realize there is a do not call registry, but they increasingly get around that, plus it doesn't do a thing to prevent charities and political organizations from calling.

      • Telemarketers calling cell phones using autodialers is supposed to be illegal. And all are legally required to stop calling if you tell them to take you off their list.

      • Re:Land Lines (Score:5, Informative)

        by adamstew ( 909658 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:32PM (#29122453)

        It is illegal for any telemarketer or any organization to call you on a cell phone for commercial purposes, including charities, etc. unless you already have an existing current business relationship with that specific business ("marketing partners, etc." don't count). This is also true for 800 numbers, pagers and any other type of phone line where you might be charged to receive the call.

        The penalties are pretty stiff too. You don't have to ask them to remove you, you do not have to register your number with any private or government list. If they call you, and you don't have an existing current business relationship with that company, you can sue them for $1500 in statutory damages in small claims court. Courts have found that you can name both the telemarketing firm and the business that the firm may be calling on behalf of in the suit.

        This fine gets extended to companies where you might have an ended business relationship with... i.e. you call your cable company and cancel your account, you've just ended the relationship. They can call you to finish business (i.e. past due collections, etc.) But if they call you to try and give you a special offer or to sell you anything, you can sue em.

        From the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991: All unsolicited commercial telephone calls "No Person May" "Initiate any telephone call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice," "To any telephone number assigned to a paging service, cellular telephone service, specialized mobile radio service, or other radio common carrier service, or any service for which the called party is charged for the call;"

        • Stephen Hawking? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @04:42PM (#29124869) Homepage Journal
          I saw "artificial or prerecorded voice", had a feeling of disbelief, and looked for the statute [] myself. As written, it would appear to discriminate against people who use a speech synthesizer to communicate, like Stephen Hawking.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It is illegal for any telemarketer or any organization to call you on a cell phone for commercial purposes, including charities, etc. unless you already have an existing current business relationship with that specific business ("marketing partners, etc." don't count). This is also true for 800 numbers, pagers and any other type of phone line where you might be charged to receive the call.

          Yeah, and spam is illegal too. All it means is that the calls you get will be from the least scrupulous marketers out there. I had a cellphone number that regularly got calls about all the same crap most people get in spam - prescription drugs, dick extensions, herbal hair rejuvenators, etc. Most the time these guys don't even have valid caller-id numbers. They are total fly by nights and hunting them and their 'clients' down is almost certainly a lot of work for what will ultimately turn out to be an

    • That's the main purpose of my answering machine. It's still annoying when it rings, but I don't have to talk to the vermin.

      Now, if I could just get my mom to leave a message so I know she's not a spammer. *sigh*

  • Cell phones are simply far more useful. I live by myself; or did until two weeks ago. Why would one person need two phones? My new girlfriend has her own cell phone, why would we need a third?

    My elderly father says "I did without a cell phone for over seven decades, why would I need one now?" I pointed out that they're handy in an emergency, he countered with "my car has on-star". I didn't bother to mention that pay phones have almost become extinct. I pointed out that with most cell phones, long distance c

    • by localman57 ( 1340533 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:14PM (#29122137)

      Grandpa still used the outhouse.

      Man. I hate SBC/AT&T as much as the next guy, but even I think that metaphore was pretty harsh...

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      your eldery father HAS a cellphone. His OnStar is a cellphone.

      also you can hook 2 or more regular phones to a cellphone. I do it all the time with my bluetooth to phone adapter. Wife and I pick up 2 cordless phones and talk to my brother in florida.

      So the only advantage that landline has is gone.

    • When the tornados hit Springfield in March 2006, I would not have had phone service for a week were it not for my cell phone.

      When the floods hit Iowa in 2008, I did not have cell phone service for 3 days. I'm just saying, you can't really count that as a total win for cell phones; the systems are dangerously under developed when an unusually large number of people are trying to use them all at the same time, which is exactly what happens when a major disaster strikes.

      Now, that being said, I was still able to get the occasional text message through by repeatedly sending it until it succeeded. It was enough to at least let my wif

    • Point out to him that On-Star *is* a cell phone, maybe.

  • by mano.m ( 1587187 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:07PM (#29121997)
    how do you get back out of the Matrix?
  • Evolution... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:08PM (#29122025)

    All that will happen is that the major telecoms will switch over to being infrastructure providers for TCP/IP-based communications. You may get VoIP through Comcast or Cox, but they'll have to buy their infrastructure from a division of Verizon or AT&T.

    • I can ALREADY get VOIP via Cox. In fact, you can get VOIP from Qwest, called 'Broadband Phone Service', in some areas...

      And you can only order 'Broadband Phone Service' over the phone... :)

      Funny? Not really, sort of, unfortunately. Mostly sad.

  • by von_rick ( 944421 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:09PM (#29122043) Homepage
    These days its getting harder for people to retain a steady profession and have to move quite frequently. This has made it necessary for most people to rely on the mobile phones as their primary line rather than the landline. Many people often have to transfer their landline calls to their cell phones when they are on the move. The limitations of landlines and the socio-economic situation of present is making it hard for people to consider landlines.
  • Fairpoint sucks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:09PM (#29122051)

    Here in Northern New England, our telephone company is Fairpoint Communications.

    Their billing system is so messed up that the state of New Hampshire will not allow them to disconnect delinquent accounts.

    They will undoubtedly be filing for bankruptcy within a year or two.

    Fairpoint was not prepared for this. They are a miserable little two-bit operation and have no business even attempting to handle over a million land lines.

    Of course Comcast is loving every minute of it.

    • by kaszeta ( 322161 )
      While I agree 100% that Fairpoint sucks (I've had no end of ridiculous billing problems from them since February...), Verizon sucked in a lot of ways as well, especially for those of us up in the rural parts of the state. Despite literally having a Verizon fiber bundle running over my land, I was never able to even get decent dialtone service from them, and as far as DSL or other high-speed service? Their official answer was that we'd never get it. Ever.

      The phone companies are in the situation they are

    • Fairpoint was just a scam to give Verizon an out from 'losing' (not making as much as they wanted) money in the Northeast, especially Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

      A pox on them both. I used to live there. Phone service should have been a license to print money, but tyhey hosed it up and probably hve a kickback sceme running with Fairpoint. Worst case scenario, Fairpoint collapses and Verizon gets it all back and keeps what Fairpoint paid them. Best case scenario, Time-Warner and the other ISPs eat

  • The timing of this article is ironic for me. My other half is visiting NY (we live in the UK) and just called to tell me her mobile got trashed in an accident but wouldn't have worked anyway as it doesn't support the US frequency bands.

    Of course, that call was pretty short, since landline calls from the hotel to the UK are $5.50 for the first minute and $3.50 per minute after that. It's hard to imagine why people would eschew a service offering such clear value for money in favour of flat rate services like

    • Umm... hotel calls are just plain expensive. 30 min long distance call from Boston to Florida was close to $250...

    • Obviously she will be picking up a prepaid GSM phone, since they work for voice here and the UK.

      What was that again, her UK phone wouldn't work here? uh, no. Just need a prepaid SIM, which can be hard to find in the U.S.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:14PM (#29122135) Journal
    Kill it with fiber!
  • I recently went with a BYOD VOIP provider and have two cordless phones at home.

    I have to say that,a side from the occasional QOS hiccup(maybe once ever 5 calls it has a delay), the quality of the call puts my cell phone to shame.

    I don't mind using my mobile for quick chats or when I'm obviously not home, but when I really want to talk and listen to a person, I reach for the "obsolete" phone next to my desk. That and the cellphones get way too hot after 30 minutes of talking.

    Then again, is the phone even rea

  • by ewolfr ( 209134 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:16PM (#29122165)

    I can't get dsl where I am without subbing to a landline as well. A cable modem isn't really an option either since we have Directv and wouldn't qualify for any bundling deals from the cable company. If I could do dry line dsl I would in an instant, but I get to pay an extra $13/mo for my internet access instead.

  • by localman57 ( 1340533 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:17PM (#29122181)
    Most home-detention ankle-bracelet style monitoring equipment in our area requires a land-line to plug into. In order to be eligible for home-detention, you must have a land-line without "features" such as call-waiting / 3-way calling, etc.

    Obviously eventually this will change.
    • So what are you "in for"? Pirating MP3s? Did you have to inform your neighbors that you are an IP predator?

  • I would still have a landline if the phone company would sell me DSL without me giving them my social security number.

  • by bloosh ( 649755 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:25PM (#29122309)

    In the area of New Orleans where I live (and didn't flood), the only way for people to communicate with the outside world was with land lines and old phones which are powered completely off the line (no wall warts).

    Much of the cellular system didn't work. The remaining working systems were nearly impossible to use.

    I hate using cell phones for more than a few minutes and always use a land line for long conversations. I also need to keep the land line for our alarm systems.

    I was amazed to discover that my collection of 40s - 70s rotary dial phones dial perfectly on the Cox Digital phone system.

  • I know not all companies did this, but in general: if the telcos had not taken all that Government (that is, your) money, that was intended for installing fiber, and used it for other things, they would not be hurting quite so badly today.
  • Beyond the discussion of landlines, my favorite part of the article was actually at the end:

    With broadband networks, the role of the state has less to do with limiting handouts than increasing choice. Fibre-optic networks can be run like any other public infrastructure: government, municipalities or utilities lay the cables and let private firms compete to offer services, just as public roadways are used by private logistics firms. In Stockholm, a pioneer of this system, it takes 30 minutes to change your b

  • We replaced it with Vonage for my business (low cost toll-free number was a big factor). And we got a family plan from AT&T for personal calls. My elderly Mom was quite fragile in health, and I stupidly thought that a cell phone would give constant, reliable access. She died very early on a Sunday morning in the nursing home where she had lived for only a couple of weeks. There was a technical problem with Vonage (nothing new--they perpetually mix up the fax and phone lines, and the fax does not ring).

  • by bzzfzz ( 1542813 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:54PM (#29122861)

    The decline of the landline is not due solely to changing usage patterns and technology but rather due to the anti-customer regulatory and business environment for landline phones.

    A poster up thread was perhaps more insightful than he realized when stating that the problem with a landline is that telemarketers keep calling. After the MFJ, incoming toll was highly profitable for local exchanges, and they encouraged incoming toll, and lobbied to protect telemarketers, and fought things like caller ID.

    And in the wake of the MFJ, phone service as a business changed from being a benevolent and responsible (if bureaucratic) utility to being a cost-driven race to the bottom. Service suffered. Innovation suffered. Prices for local telephone service went up. In the last few years I've received a disconnect notice for paying my phone bill two weeks late, I've been charged a $60 fee for the company to repair their own facilities (by a CLEC who said it was in their tariff because the ILEC charged them and they had to cover costs), I've had customer service reps hang up on me, and I've had service that was at best no more reliable than that provided 30 years ago.

    And for this privilege I pay approximately $45 a week for a basic service bundle including caller ID and long distance. That is slightly more than I pay for my mobile phone. And is it somehow a premium service worthy of a premium price? Most assuredly not.

    Technologically, the wired carriers should have an edge. The technologies are identical until the last mile. In the last mile, the wired carrier has essentially unlimited capacity and higher reliability. But that doesn't make up for the poor service and bad public policy upstream.

  • Dodo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @03:03PM (#29123043)

    It has its uses, just not for me. I have been landline free for half a decade now and have never looked back. Pretty much two things lead to this:

    1) I don't want to pay two big bills thanks. This has a lot to do with how our payment is structured, and how our telcos really rip us off. Reduce the costs, combine billing, etc... if you want to solve this one. Fault is with greedy telcos.

    2) I don't want 10 calls a day from telemarketers. Near the end I was getting about twice as many calls from telemarketers as I was real people. Why am I paying for someone to advertise to me and wasting my time and annoying me? Why? Telemarketers have been taking advantage of the system for years and it has gotten progressively worse. Laws need to be put into place. They tried too little too late... and to top it off it is pretty toothless and unenforced with most just ignoring the no call lists. So this is partly the fault of the regulators, and party the greedy telcos again....

    I bet if you fix both those issues many will either keep their landline or go back to having both.

  • Well Duh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rally2xs ( 1093023 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @03:08PM (#29123159)

    If the landline would just compete with the cell network, not as many people would be turning it off.

    I mean, if I could make my landline phone ring different tones for different callers, block calls from whoever I don't want to talk to (I'd be downloading the whole range of "Who called me" perpetrators from the internet), forward the phone to another phone remotely, either over the internet or over another phone, have voicemailboxes that would decode the voice, create text, and e-mail it to me at work or text it to me on a cell, and all the other features anyone can think of, then... maybe it'd be useful enough to actually want to hang onto.

    I keep it because its WAAAAAY more reliable than my cell, but it could stand a lot of 21st century upgrading.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @03:14PM (#29123287) Homepage Journal
    TFA misses an important point -- what we're seeing is the decline of POTS, not landlines in general. Broadband penetration is increasing; it's long since passed its critical mass and will soon be at a point where we can safely call it pervasive. "Triple play" type services are fast becoming the norm, and we will eventually get to a point where there are two providers in almost every locality: one former "phone company" and one former "cable company" -- although the differences between the two are rapidly becoming irrelevant.

    The days of having "a phone line" are indeed drawing to a close. We are now entering the era where you simply buy a big digital pipe from one of the carriers in your area, delivered as a piece of coaxial cable, fiber optic cable (if you're lucky), or twisted-pair (if you're unlucky), and telephony is simply one of the services delivered over that pipe.

    The true endgame, which I hope we see soon, is the dismantling of the PSTN as we know it -- where central offices become little more than colocation centers for telecom gear; telephone numbers will represent nothing more than an address on the network.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by r_jensen11 ( 598210 )

      I absolutely hate VoIP.

      In the event that the power goes out, the battery backup box lasts longer than a material power-outage. This past winter, we had a (relatively, for the area) large snow storm which knocked out my power one night. Because I had FIOS, I had to have the battery-backup box (I was renting the place, so I didn't bother to raise a fuss with the tech and have him leave the copper phone connection.) When I wanted to make a call the following morning, the battery backup box is beeping and I

  • by Archfeld ( 6757 ) * <> on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @04:54PM (#29125061) Journal

    Federal requirements regarding load capacity for land line networks is higher than that required of cell networks, significantly higher. So as the land lines fall away be aware that the cell phone network will fail under approx. a 50% total capacity, whereas a landline network was required to support 80%. So don't start screaming during the next disaster when the cell networks are down in the first 5 seconds, and the land lines which would have in the past still functioned begin to fail under the load....

    Who ya gonna call...NOONE

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan