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Land Lines – Endangered Phone Species?

PHOTO: Consumer advocates say land-line phones are still used widely, especially by seniors and those in rural areas, but telecom companies are pushing Internet-based alternatives which are much less regulated.  Courtesy Mark Scheerer.
PHOTO: Consumer advocates say land-line phones are still used widely, especially by seniors and those in rural areas, but telecom companies are pushing Internet-based alternatives which are much less regulated. Courtesy Mark Scheerer.
March 25, 2013

BOSTON - Millions of consumers have cancelled their old land-line telephone service and replaced it with wireless phones. But many seniors and people who live in rural areas still depend on land-lines, and consumer watchdogs are making sure they don't lose them. Also, there are those who perhaps prefer a land-line to a wireless phone because of potentially hazardous health effects which are still being debated, and they too can take heart.

According to Olivia Wein of the National Consumer Law Center, land-line phones will not disappear overnight.

"Over half of residential customers still have land-line and wireless," she pointed out.

But Wein said that much of the copper-wire pathway that phone calls travel from one land-line telephone to another is being replaced by Internet-based digital transmission. Telecom companies may benefit and are trying to convince regulators that these calls have transformed into an "information service," with much less government regulation than traditional telephone service. Consumer groups say the result could be higher prices and almost no monitoring or enforcement against rip-offs.

Ana Montes of The Utility Reform Network said new phones that are based on Internet-protocol or "IP" can lose their battery charge in an emergency-related power outage.

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

Montes said she's concerned that some seniors are being urged to "upgrade" to new Internet-based telephone services when their land-lines are fine.

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

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.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA