Telephone 'land lines' obsolete?

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com Many people have given up on their old telephone "land lines" -- one study suggests that 22 percent of households have already cut their land-line service entirely -- but soon you may not have a choice in the matter. In a Dec. 21 filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), AT&T argues that telecommunications companies can't achieve Congress' goal of making broadband Internet access available across the country if they still must operate the old land-line systems.
AT&T is calling for the FCC to seek input on regulatory changes to enable a transition away from the copper phone lines that currently dot America's landscape. That means that the one in five Americans who still rely exclusively on land lines may be forced into some type of new replacement technology as the major wireline telephone providers back away from what many are now saying is a dying and expensive business. Many local people have already jumped ship. "The only reason I have a land line is for my fax machine," said Newnan resident Summer Miller Shirley. "We finally got a dependable broadband connection and went full VoIP. Two lines, one for work, one for home -- one is via Comcast, the other via T-Mobile@Home. Both work great," said Mike Patterson of Newnan. "The reason? The old BellSouth line was dependable but expensive," he said. "By restructuring our phone/cable TV/internet service, we're saving about $80 a month. "In recent developments, we suddenly get a good cell signal at home, so the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) lines will go as soon as my contract is up," he said. Some have tried going "all wireless" and suddenly felt vulnerable. "We tried it for a while, but went back to a land line," said Ellen Bell Hamrick, a Newnan native who now lives in Norcross but still talks to Newnan family members often by telephone. "We felt like we needed the land line for emergencies," she said. Turin resident Angela Banks Tinsley said she doesn't feel comfortable cutting off her land line just yet. "We can't cut ours off because our cell service isn't reliable way out here in Turin," said Tinsley. "We would rely on our land line in an emergency ... We'd be lost out here without a land line." Others have cut off their land lines and have never looked back. "I haven't had a land line since 2005 and I don't miss it," said Dr. Georgina DeWeese, a teacher at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. "Last April I had to call 911 when my baby was choking, and I had no problems using my cell phone." "I haven't owned a land line for probably 10 years," said Ryan Vila, a Newnan native who now lives in Atlanta. "In the beginning I just used my cell phone but later I started using VoIP (Vonage) because it's cheaper and gives me the ability to use regular phones. I like using speaker phone capability for work rather then wearing a headset or using my cell." With AT&T now basically admitting that the old land line system is obsolete, it might not be too long before those land lines go the way of the old rotary phones. Broadband is available to 90 percent of Americans now. Getting it to the last 10 percent or so who don't have it will require an investment of $350 billion or so, according to AT&T. Moreover, revenues from land-line business and the public-switched telephone network are in "a death spiral," the company says. "Revenues from (those services) are plummeting as customers cut their land lines in favor of the convenience and advanced features of wireless and VoIP services," the filing says. That creates a big problem, according to AT&T. "Due to the high fixed costs of providing (land lines), every customer who abandons this service raises the average cost per line to serve the remaining customers." But many local residents hope to hold onto their land line service just a little longer. Palmetto resident Hilary Morgan says that she still find the old land lines useful, in some cases. "We have had our land line for FOREVER..." said Morgan. "We mostly use it for screening purposes, and when we don't want to have our cell phones annoyed with appointment confirmation calls or automated notifications and stuff. "We never answer it -- all calls go to the machine," she said.


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