Think before you cut the cord

Published 10:13 pm Saturday, July 25, 2009

Christine Dickens only uses a cellular phone for her phone service. She has a landline phone, but uses it for her Internet.

“Cells are cheaper,” she said. “They’re versatile.”

She’s not alone.

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“Over the last five to eight years, we’ve seen a consistent decline in the number of customers using a wire line in their home,” Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman, said. “We’ve lost about eight percent annually over the last five to eight years.”

According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, about one in five adults now use a wireless phone exclusively, and the trend is expected to continue.

“It’s become much more common for entire families to take advantage of affordable wireless plans and outfit young and old alike with a cell phone,” he said. “There are even very young elementary age youth who have their own cell phone.”

However, the decline in landline phone connections does not necessarily mean that those homes no longer have a landline, Kula said. Some of the landline cancellations are almost certainly second and third lines to residences, he said.

“Part of the trend is a catch-up effect of during the ‘80s and ‘90s, we sold a considerable amount of second and third home phone lines to residences,” Kula said. “What was the ‘teen line’ of the ‘80s and ‘90s is, in effect today, the wireless phone.”

In addition, many people who added lines to their homes for dial-up Internet are forgoing that technology in favor of high-speed connections and no longer need the additional line.

The reasons for canceling the landline phone and using only a cell phone are plentiful. It’s cheaper and more portable, even when moving out of town. Additionally, people in an increasingly busy world find themselves out of their home more often than they are in it.

However, Kula said there are just as many reasons for keeping a landline phone — particularly one with a cord — in the home.

“We encourage people to have at least one hard-wired phone connected directly to the jack,” Kula said.

One primary reason is that when the power goes out, even cordless phones on landline connections won’t work — and, depending when the last time you charged your cell phone was, wireless phones won’t work for long.

Kula experienced that firsthand when in April 2008, a tornado ripped through his town of Plano, Texas, knocking out power to most of the town and causing much of the same damage a similar storm did here in Suffolk later in the month. Kula, unfortunately, hadn’t charged his cell phone in a while.

“Fairly quickly, my cell phone died, but I was able to speak to reporters on that hard-wired phone in the home,” Kula said. “I was able to benefit from having the hard-wired phone, and I truly practiced what I preached for years.”

Of course, people hope they will never experience a natural disaster of some sort, but there are other considerations when thinking about “cutting the cord.”

“Reliability and safety are the two most fundamental benefits that people receive from using a wired phone,” Kula said. “It’s a surefire connection that will not fail you even when the power is out. That peace of mind is emotionally very helpful.”

For households with family members who are elderly or have serious health problems, the 911 system is another thing to consider, Kula said. Placing a 911 call from a cell phone doesn’t always give first responders access to your exact location. If the caller is unable to give his address, precious minutes could be lost, Kula said.

“When seconds count, a wire line phone can be your best friend,” he said.

In addition to the benefits of keeping a landline phone, a person’s stage in life can affect whether they have a landline, Kula said.

“We’ve seen an uptick of people using wire line phones once they’re established professionally or raising a family,” he said. “Through the 30s and 40s, there is a higher percentage of individuals using wire line phones than those in their teens and 20s.”

Overall, Kula urged people to consider a number of factors before canceling their landline.

“In terms of where we stand right now, before an individual considers canceling their landline phone, we would encourage them to consider where they are in life, and determine what type of phone usage that they may have.”

Asked if he’s concerned about the future of landline phones, Kula is an optimist.

“We’ll continue to see people using wired phones for decades.”