Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Landline Phones

From time to time, I provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. I previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week I look at cutting the cord to landline telephone lines.

Background

The number of landline telephones in the developed world has steadily risen over the past century, but something changed in the last decade: A decline began.

The International Telecommunication Union found that there were 57 fixed telephone lines per 100 inhabitants in the developed world in 2001, but that number dropped to 50 lines by 2007 (see chart below). What happened? The mobile phone revolution started displacing landlines as more people relied on cell phones and voice-over-IP (VoIP) services such as Vonage.

That trend is becoming even more pronounced in the U.S., where the National Center for Health Statistics recently found that in the second half of 2009 nearly one out of every four households relied completely on cell phones, while one eighth had landlines but rarely used them.

As smartphones proliferate and offer text messaging, web access and addictive apps, people are spending more time with their mobiles rather than their landline phones. And the less time they spend on landlines, the more they wonder why they need to pay that extra cost.

In recessionary times, people looking to save money make the calculations and cut the cord to landlines.

Pam Collins, a speech language pathologist in Atlanta, told me she's saving $50 per month by cutting the landline in her household.

"We gave up our landline to cut costs when my husband was starting his business -- we use our cell phones," she explained in an email. "I have taught my children to unlock my phone and try to keep it in a central location for emergencies. It got to the point where we weren't answering the home phone and forgetting to check the messages since anyone we wanted to talk to had our cell numbers. My mom just gave up her landline as well."

Just as I explained in the Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV, some people find it daunting to give up a traditional service in exchange for a newer one. The newer services can be glitchy and not provide the service you expect with landlines. But many services such as Vonage and Skype have been around for years and score well in customer satisfaction.

Cell Only

The easiest way to eliminate your landline phone is to rely entirely on your mobile while at home. That means that you'll need to have excellent cell coverage at home, or use a femtocell or microcell tower (see next section).

It also means you should make sure you have an adequate plan to cover all the extra minutes you'll be talking on your cell. The advantages of using your cell phone at home are obvious: No landline phone bill; only one phone number to share with friends and contacts; easy mobility to start a call at home and keep talking on the go.

But there are downsides that come with cutting your landline and relying on your cell phone at home:

If there's a power outage, you can't communicate with anyone once your cell phone battery runs out. Many people keep a spare landline phone around that doesn't require electricity to make calls. That becomes more difficult without the landline.

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