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Land Lines – Endangered Phone Species?

PHOTO: Consumer advocates say land-line phones are still used widely, especially by seniors and rural residents, but telecom companies are pushing Internet-based alternatives that are much less regulated. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
PHOTO: Consumer advocates say land-line phones are still used widely, especially by seniors and rural residents, but telecom companies are pushing Internet-based alternatives that are much less regulated. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
March 25, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - About four in 10 Oregon households use only wireless phones now, having cancelled their landline telephone service. However, many seniors and people who live in rural areas still depend on landlines, and consumer watchdogs are making sure they do not lose them.

Ana Montes, an organizer with The Utility Reform Network, is concerned that some seniors are being urged to "upgrade" to new Internet-based telephone services, even though their land lines are fine.

"It's being sold as, 'This is old technology; it's not useful technology; nobody is using that technology anymore,'" she says. "That is not really accurate. There's still a reliance by a lot of different folks on the older technology."

Much of the copper-wire pathway that phone calls travel on from one landline telephone to another is being replaced by Internet-based digital transmission, and telecom companies may benefit. They are trying to convince regulators that these digital calls should be considered an "information service," which would mean much less regulation. Consumer groups have warned that this could result in higher prices and almost no monitoring or enforcement against rip-offs.

Landlines still save the day in emergencies, adds Montes. She points out that new phones based on Internet-protocol (IP) can lose their battery charge in a power outage.

"In many instances when there have been emergencies, people have relied upon pay phones, people have relied on landline telephone service," warns Montes. "If we were to switch over to an entirely IP-based network, we could end up being in a real mess."

Some people prefer a landline to a wireless phone because of potentially hazardous health effects of radiation that are still being debated.

A survey released last fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most U.S. families have both landline and wireless service.

This story was produced as part of the Media Consortium's Media Policy Reporting and Education Project, thanks to a generous grant from the Media Democracy Fund.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR