A couple of months ago I reviewed the bill for my landline telephone and internet service, which was running slightly over $100 per month. (Not anymore!) I came back to a question that has been nagging me recently, which is: Do I need a landline telephone? Having spent a good part of my adult life in emergency communications, I have always believed that a landline telephone would afford me the best communication in an emergency. And living in earthquake country, I know it is inevitable that one day communication will be knocked out – at least I think it will. (I also just realized that I have lived in the shadow of the possibility of a large earthquake hitting this area for my entire life. The quake in 1989 didn’t count as it was just “pressure release.”)
Since starting this blog post, I’ve done a 180-degree turn from my original position. When I started this, I really thought that I had the answers and was working from an informed point of view. As it turns out – my point of view was outdated, and unfortunately, it will now be another ten months before my wallet catches up to my new point of view. A Pew Research study conducted in 2010 says that 62% of American households think it is important to have a landline telephone. Compare that to 42% stating that it is important to have a television. And here I thought we were trailblazers by not having traditional television in our home. That said, I would not rely solely on a VOIP service (voice over internet protocol) as that requires that two systems be functional – electrical power as well as internet service.
What are some of the reasons you think you might want to have or keep your landline telephone?
- Because I have always had a landline telephone.
- So that emergency responders can find me.
- To send faxes.
- All of my friends know my phone number.
- I like to donate money to major corporations rather than to worthy causes.
- It is impractical to have only cellular telephone service on my estate. For example, I do not expect my kitchen staff to use their personal cell phones to deal with the caterers for my next big bash.
Reviewing the list, it appears that we can probably eliminate items 1, 4, and 5 as not particularly practical reasons to keep a landline, leaving us with emergency responders and faxes. Item six, while written tongue in cheek, actually does make sense so it stays on the list. Realistically the estate could be downsized, the kitchen staff could be the nanny or au pair, and it applies to a larger segment of the population. Along the same lines, keep in mind that some alarm systems rely on your landline connection.
It used to be that if one called 9-1-1 from a cell phone the person answering the phone did not know where you were. Times and technology have changed. Even the stalwart Consumer Reports now says “dropping your landline and using your cell phone ‘is generally a safe bet.’” When 9-1-1 is called from your home landline telephone or using VOIP, the address you are calling from is automatically displayed. So the one major advantage of your landline over your cell phone in that case would be if you were unable to speak for some reason, such as being physically incapable or due to the presence of an intruder. And in most places, if you call 9-1-1 from your cell phone, they will know where you are. It is probably worth testing this before you disconnect your landline. If you’re worried about calling 9-1-1 when it’s not an emergency, just call the 7-digit phone number to your local emergency center and tell them that you’d like to test your phone by calling 9-1-1 and ask if it is a good time to do so. That way you won’t be interrupting anything major and it is less likely they will have to put the person calling in their spouse’s heart attack on hold to answer your call. (Of course, chances are you are asking the same person who answers the 9-1-1 lines that very question. But checking first is usually considered an appropriate thing to do.)
Don’t forget that if you use a cordless telephone in your home it won’t work if the power goes out. Since I live in an area where it is not unusual for the power to go out when bad storms hit, I still have an old wall phone hanging in my kitchen. I keep the ringer turned off and while it’s not programmable, I only use it when the power goes out so I can just hit redial to reach the power company.
Ultimately, I think landlines are going to go the way of telegraphs and teletypes. Cell phone numbers are now portable, meaning if you go from one carrier to another you can take your number with you. In fact, since long distance calls are included in most if not all cell phone plans, there really isn’t much reason to change your cell number even if you move across the country. My teenager has a cell phone, all of her friends have her number. It’s likely that she will keep this number for a long time. Cell phone numbers have already taken the place of home phone numbers in our society.
If you do a fair amount faxing, it may be more practical to keep your landline as a dedicated fax line. On the other hand, you could sign up for an online fax service where you could send and receive faxes. Here’s a site where you can compare fax services: http://www.faxcompare.com/ The one feature that would be of concern to me is referred to as “users in plan,” which limits the number of email addresses that you can send faxes from as well as the number of recipients you can set up to receive the faxes. On the other hand, if you seldom need to fax things, you might be ahead to just dump your landline and go to your local UPS store when you need to send a fax!
Last but not least
A couple of points on technology. If you know someone who lives in another part of the state, country, or world, you need a Skype account. To use Skype, after setting up your account, all you need is your computer with a high speed connection, such as DSL or cable. In most cases you won’t even need a headset, although I prefer wearing a headset to cut down on the background sounds and to give me a little more privacy. You can find a pretty good deal on a headset on the Skype accessories page. And finally, the person you are planning to communicate with via Skype also needs to have a Skype account and you can talk for free! I’ve been able to talk with a friend who lives in Cambodia using technology that didn’t exist ten years ago.
You may have heard about Magic Jack on television. They had it available the last time I was at my timeshare in the mountains, and it worked fine, although it has had some pretty bad reviews. But now they have come out with Magic Jack Plus, which received a pretty good review this week in the San Francisco Chronicle. Since already dumped my long distance plan on my landline, I went ahead and ordered Magic Jack. I’ll let you know how it works out.
There is another device celled OOMA now on the market that works much like VOIP. This is a pricier alternative at around $200. They claim that you don’t need a computer, but you do have to plug the device into your high speed internet. Why would you have a high speed internet connection and not have a computer? Once connected, you just pay the taxes and regulatory fees, which amount to about $3.50 per month. You are also able to port your number to OOMA.
And finally, do the math. Don’t forget that if you have services bundles, such as landline, internet and television, you may have to pay more for whatever is left after you take out your landline. If you are locked into a contract like I am, you should look at the fees for early termination. Sometimes it is best just to wait out the contract.
What do you think?
What are your thoughts on landlines? Have you considered dropping yours? What has made you keep it? Or if you did drop it, do you miss having it? Leave your responses in the comments below. And please, feel free to forward this far and wide!
UPDATE – April 13, 2012
I promised to get back to you about Magic Jack Plus. I ordered it using their free trial, which incidentally if you want the free trial period you must order through their website. It was easy enough to set up. They advertise that with Magic Jack Plus no computer is needed. That could be misleading for some people. The original Magic Jack only worked when your computer was turned on, and that’s no longer the case with Magic Jack Plus. But you DO need to have a high speed internet connection, and I can’t imagine why you’d have that without having a computer! I also ran into a slight issue connecting it and had to contact their customer service folks – which again requires a computer because the only way to talk with them is via instant messaging. They were going to escalate the issue and said they would get back to me, “Okay?” to which I responded, “I guess I don’t have much choice.” At that point I received a canned message that said something to the effect that if I was not going to cooperate with them they would have no choice but to end the call – and before I could blink they had terminated our chat! I believe that may have something to do with why I have seen it called “Magic Jack Unsupport,” in more than one forum. Ultimately I figured out the issue on my own and it was my own mistake. One of those things you’d rather not tell anyone, let alone admit to in your own tech blog! (I have two different cordless handset telephones, and I inadvertently switched the handsets with the base sets, so they were incompatible.)
All that aside, functionally Magic Jack was disappointing. I found that it dropped calls pretty routinely somewhere around the 12 to 18 minute mark. If you don’t have calls that last that long, no problem! But I talk to my dad on a regular basis and found myself on several occasions chattering away and not getting any feedback from him. As it turns out, the call had dropped, but there was absolutely nothing to indicate it had dropped. Unlike cell phones that beep and say “call failed,” Magic Jack Plus gives you the impression you’re still on the phone. In fact, the minutes and seconds on my handset continued to tick away long after the call the had dropped. Sound quality was generally all right, but I did have to hang up and call back a couple of times due to popping on the line. So today I shipped the Magic Jack Plus unit back to them. For now I think I’ll just use my cell phone with the very cool retro handset made by Native Union that plugs into my cell phone.