Making the jump into the 21st century
April 18, 2009 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Why do we need a landline?

The year is 2009. I know this question has been asked before but as the years go by and networks change, the answers do as well.

We pay $45/month for digital voice that we almost never use (maybe 8-10 minutes per month). I'd like to eliminate the expense but the wife says no, keep it.

But do we really need a landline in this day and age? It's not even a true landline phone since it's digital and comes through the cable modem.

Here's our set-up:

We have 3G iPhones through AT&T.

At home we have Verizon cable internet and digital cable along with digital voice. These all come through the same "pipe." So it seems to me that if we needed a landline and the internet was down, our landline would be too.

Also, we have a Skype account that we could fund for emergency phone calls.

So do we need this antique?

This is in Boston. FIOS and U-Verse are not yet available on my street, FWIW.
posted by mds35 to Technology (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have to ask "why," then you probably don't. I've been living happily without one for years.
posted by epimorph at 6:40 AM on April 18, 2009

We don't have one in our new place, and I don't think we will be getting one. Even though cell reception is not perfect in our apartment, it's not worth the extra $40-50 per month for a landline. That said, you've got to consider your partner's feelings about it. Even if she knows it is not strictly necessary, she may want it for all sorts of reasons.

Why not try an experiment? Get her to agree to unplug the landline phones for a month (but keep the service active) and see how much you both miss it. Revisit the issue at the end of the month and see if you both still think it is worth it. If she still wants to keep it, maybe she can come up with an alternative way to save the same amount of money per month?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:41 AM on April 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

If your wife says no, keep it, then you need a landline. :)

It sounds to me, however, that you have all your telephony bases covered; cell phones for regular phone talk and 911, and Skype for anything else. Why spend $45 a month on something you don't use? I have my cell phone and Skype Out, and use the latter 90% of the time. It costs about $3 a month for unlimited outbound calling to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, cell numbers included. But it isn't portable (attached to my computer) and doesn't have 911 service, so I use my cell phone for talking when I'm out of the house or if I ever need to call 911.
posted by nitsuj at 6:42 AM on April 18, 2009

We've been landline-less for 6 years now; about the only reason we thought we might need it is: what if we leave the kids home (they don't have celphones - I know, we abuse them) to run to the store, and there's an emergency? We have one of those prepaid celphones that never leaves the house; as long as we leave it charged up (both for power and minutes), now we have an 'emergency at home' phone. Something to keep in mind is that, if the power goes out in your home, often the phone lines are still powered and landline calls can be made -- you're not going to be able to use Skype in that sort of emergency.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:59 AM on April 18, 2009

The only reason we keep ours is for the Tivo. If I purchased a USB adapter for it then I'd really have no use for a landline.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:59 AM on April 18, 2009

Do you have good coverage at home? If so, drop the landline.
I'm in Boston and haven't had a landline in 6 years (cell service through ATT). Whenever I get home from being out, I drop my cell in its cradle. As soon as I'm in range, my GE bluetooth gateway connects me to my array of cordless phones strewn about my apartment so I don't have to go running for my cell when I get a call. You can also plug it right into your your phone jacks to use your hardline phones. The GE gateway supports 2 bluetooth phones, so you can effectively have 2 lines (I'm working on tying Skype into that second line). I'm sure there are better ones out there, but I picked my BT gateway up at Target for $30.

To add, I've also had to call 911 from my cell and didn't have a problem.
posted by zerokey at 7:02 AM on April 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Also, it might be worth adding, you can still call 911 from a landline even if you don't have any kind of phone service. I used to have a regular old corded phone hooked up to a line that didn't have any service (I couldn't make or receive any calls) just in case I wanted to call 911. But I don't even have that now.
posted by greta simone at 7:09 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

greta - the same applies to a cell phone without service. BUt if the landline has no power (such as in my apartment), 911 won't work at all.
posted by zerokey at 7:12 AM on April 18, 2009

You don't. Cancel it and don't tell your wife.

No, that would be bad. Seriously, though, you really don't need a landline. I've been without one for years.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:26 AM on April 18, 2009

Another vote for "you don't."

In 5 years without landline service, there's been only one occasion in which we couldn't have dialed 911 if we needed - an enormous storm (I'm guessing here) knocked out power to the cells closest to us, and despite normally having full signal, we were without any signal for about 2 hours.

The thing is, we have neighbors, and we know them. So in case of emergency, I'd just go bang on their doors until someone was able to help.
posted by god hates math at 7:35 AM on April 18, 2009

We haven't had one in years. So another vote for "you don't need one".
posted by biscotti at 7:36 AM on April 18, 2009

I've been without a landline for about 6 years, and haven't missed it.

Of my friends who keep a landline, the main reason seems to be that their home security setup requires a landline to call the security system in cases of a break-in, fire, etc. Similarly, apartments that require a telephone call from the front gate to allow guests access sometimes (but not always) require a landline.
posted by Houstonian at 7:38 AM on April 18, 2009

i'm 2 yrs in and have not regretted the decision of no land-line, aside from all of the telemarketer phone calls i've not been able to answer during dinner time.
posted by askmehow at 7:51 AM on April 18, 2009

The phone company will tell you that some 911 centers can't get an address lookup off of a cell phone call. So you'll need to make sure to state your location at the beginning of any 911 calls you make, if you want someone to your house.

But you might check to see what your local emergency services people say about ID'ing your location from a cell phone call. I believe that some places can get address information now, but I'm not sure (and not sure by what method).

I ignored the phone company and canceled my landline eight years ago, and haven't had any issues.
posted by Gorgik at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2009

Yeah, I gave up a landline in 2000. Never looked back.
posted by gaspode at 8:06 AM on April 18, 2009

Haven't had a landline since 2003. Never miss it.
posted by amro at 8:14 AM on April 18, 2009

I haven't had a land line since 2001. Wow--that's nearly a decade! No, you don't need it at all. You are more than covered.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:25 AM on April 18, 2009

We have one and I won't be giving it up any time soon. We're both notorious for forgetting to charge our cell phones and that land line has been great during power outages when our cell phones are dead (it's not digital, it's just your normal, bland land line). Also, we have kids who don't have cell phones and won't have them until they can pay the bills (OMG! Child abuse!) so when we leave them home they need to be able to reach us. The cost is negligible, really. So small it doesn't even make a hairline scratch in the budget.

Plus, I guess I'm just really lame but I hate giving everyone my cell phone number.
posted by cooker girl at 8:26 AM on April 18, 2009

Not all 911 centers can get your address from a cell call - it really depends on where you live. Call your local police department and ask them - they'll put you in touch with the local entity who is responsible for emergency communications.

Only other reason I can think you might want one is that your ordinary landline is powered by the local CO and their Giant Fucking Wall Of Batteries Backed By A Monster Generator. If your power is totally out at home, all your electronic and cellular stuff will eventually crap out. A standard landline will not.

If that landline comes through the NIU/CPE box on your home that the internet comes through, my guess is that there is a failover (usually a relay) to the normal copper lines just for those instances - it's pretty common.
posted by Thistledown at 8:27 AM on April 18, 2009

E911 will get help to your door even if you don't say a word, and just dial the number and set the phone down. Make sure you'll still have access to this, I think it's an excellent service.
posted by popechunk at 8:31 AM on April 18, 2009

You don't. I haven't had one in a decade. You have a phone. As long as you always know where that phone is, you're golden. Who cares how it's connected to the grid?

The only time I've regretted not having a land line was when I was in serious pain and was debating calling 911. I couldn't for the life of me, in my pain-influenced state, remember where my damn cellphone was. Of course, the only thing that would possibly of helped was a corded land line....
posted by cgg at 8:34 AM on April 18, 2009

The sound quality and actual human-connecting conversations are much better with land line quality. Cell phones have a slight additional delay that leads to more interruptions and mis-reading of conversation partners. I really don't like calling my friends who only have cell phones because I can barely tell what's going on with them.

If you have distant relatives or friends with whom you keep in touch by phone, keep the land line. I do this and keep only a very very cheap cell phone for when I need it. I don't call people I care about while I'm waiting in line somewhere or driving -- that's a little rude anyway, I think, and would imply that they're only important enough to call when I'm bored. When I care about talking to someone, I sit down at home, don't focus on anything but my friend, and place the call.

Incidentally, my own cheap cell phone isn't why I have a problem with cell phone quality; the disadvantages listed above are what I notice when I talk to my friends' cell phones from my land line.
posted by amtho at 8:54 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of the main reasons I retain a landline is because I can expect my power to go out few times a year. I also live in tornado country and with it, some severe thunderstorms (though it was a nasty ice storm that knocked the power out for four days this year).

If you don't worry about power outages, that's one thing you can tick off the list of why you might want it.

I also find it more comfortable using regular phones when it comes to chatting with people rather than with cellphones. If you're comfortable with your cellphone, strike another thing off the keep list.

Lastly, it simply does help to have an alternative for when you do forget to charge your phone and you don't want to be restrained to talking next to an outlet with the cellphone charged in.

With regard to your one pipe theory, that isn't necessarily true. Eventually your lines will separate and go to their separate nexuses, etc, and if one of those goes down, it doesn't mean the other is going down. I've often had my cable go down because some box three blocks away from me is going batty, but my phone line works fine. I've almost never had any problem with a land line.
posted by Atreides at 8:56 AM on April 18, 2009

i haven't had once since 2001. you just don't need one anymore unless you live in an area where cell phone coverage is spotty at best (like my parents do).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:08 AM on April 18, 2009

Note that any digital voice setup isn't really a landline. You may already not have the stated benefits of a true landline.
posted by gjc at 9:11 AM on April 18, 2009

You need a land line in case of power outages and severe emergencies. In fact you need a landline with at least one corded phone-- the old fashioned ones with the curly cord attaching the handset to the base. During power outages your cordless phones will not work, because the handset relies on an electrical outlet for its power. Sometimes during electrical outages, and often during weather or other emergencies either cell phone traffic gets too high for the networks to handle, or emergency services will simply take over the network. Your landline will not have this problem. If you live in a major city or a tornado/earthquake/hurricane zone, keep your landline as you are probably vulnerable to power outages.

These exigencies are admittedly rare, but I've been without phone service during enough power outages to find the $18 per month needed to keep my landline worth it. (No line service, no long distance, never use it during high usage/cost periods like office hours.)
posted by nax at 9:12 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

So it seems to me that if we needed a landline and the internet was down, our landline would be too.

I have digital phone+cable internet as well and when I lose power, I lose my phone as well. Snowstorms in the winter, thunderstorms in the summer. But I like the unlimited US+Canada calling plan. The sound quality is similar to a cell phone though, not nearly as good as my old real landline from MaBell.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:13 AM on April 18, 2009

Nthing the idea that landlines are useful mainly in power outage/blackout conditions. The 2003 Blackout comes to mind as the event that seemed to have brought that difference to public attention. With days sans power, a lot of people couldn't contact anyone...

Also agreeing with people who comment that some 9-1-1 services don't accept incoming cell calls, although this might be changing. I remember officials complaining about people's cells autodialing by accident all the time; it really clogs up the tubes. (And who puts 9-1-1 on autodial anyway??)

I happen to live in an area with a lot of stormy weather and tornadoes, so I personally stick with a landline and my cell because we get brownouts and blackouts all the time. Otherwise, I'd have at least one or two spare and fully charged cell batteries.
posted by Ky at 9:18 AM on April 18, 2009

After Katrina, I couldn't get a hold of anyone down in southern Mississippi and eastern Louisiana where my family lived. But the first service to return was landlines. About a month before cell service. And yes, it required a wired phone because it was also available before electricity. So for that reason, I still keep our landline. It probably isn't rational, but it is informed by experience. And over a week of some rather intense anxiety.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:37 AM on April 18, 2009

There's one thing to miss about landlines (as in the ubiquity of landlines in general) is that it means the end of household to household socializing. Friends of a couple or a family can't call the couple or family and invite them to dinner or ask to come over or just call and see how they are. Instead, they have to pick one member of the household to call. Ditto for calls about kids (though I assume you don't have any). Teachers, principles, doctors, etc. can't call the house and speak to whichever parent answers, they have to pick a parent to call (and guess which they're likely to choose.).

Even in the days before cell phones women did most of the work of managing social calanders and maintaining ties to kin and friends of the family. I have to imagine that the gender gap in net-work will only widen as landlines disappear.

Of course, this may not necessarily speak to whether or not you need a landline, especially if you've just given everyone your cell numbers and nobody calls your landline anyway, but it's still worth thinking about.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:36 AM on April 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

In San Francisco they've been telling us for years that we should keep a land line because cell phones will go out in a major earthquake.

However last week when the fiber optics were cut in the South Bay both the land lines and mobile phones all suffered the same fate and were restored at the same time. So I suspect that reasoning is no longer true, at least around here.

Just keep a battery powered phone charger in your earthquake kit.
posted by Ookseer at 11:37 AM on April 18, 2009

I'm paying $10/mo from AT&T for a landline that is only good for local and toll-free calls.
posted by mrt at 12:05 PM on April 18, 2009

I had one of the only working phones around during the 2003 outage, because I had a landline and a wired phone. A certain amount of power was still running; just enough for phone service.

Another thing I love about landlines is that you don't pay per minute. Also, cell phone batteries run out rather quickly, especially when in use. It's not unusual that I talk on the phone for over an hour to people, and I've had calls that lasted over eight hours before. My cell couldn't last through that unless I wanted to be chained to the outlet with it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:12 PM on April 18, 2009

We got sold on a landline (rather than an IP-based phone mimicking landline functionality) based on the fact that we needed to send and receive faxes, and apparently IP telephony isn't good enough for that yet. I don't know if this was actually a real issue or just sales talk, but the difference in price was so small I didn't bother to investigate. This is in Japan, where 2020 meets 1980.
posted by No-sword at 4:42 PM on April 18, 2009

mds35's wife here, thanks so much everyone for helping with this ongoing debate. After reading this thread, my new thinking is that we should ditch the $45 per month digital voice and try to get the cheapest possible corded real landline. We have two small children and the paranoid mama in me will feel better knowing we can call 911 on the home phone if junior is choking on a hot dog. I also really like the fact that our extended families can call us on the home phone, old fashioned, but I like it that way.
posted by peeps! at 7:31 PM on April 18, 2009

My fiancé and I had the "Triple Play" cable-internet-phone plan, but after a year the introductory price ran out and it seemed silly to pay for the phone portion, since we had 2 cell phones with good coverage. So, I called the cable company to cancel and they gave me the spiel about how it was important to have a phone, blah blah blah. At that point I basically said, if you think it's so important for me to have a phone, how about you let me keep the phone service for free? To my utter amazement, they actually agreed to do this and I've been getting the service free of charge for over a year now. I think these companies often have some flexibility in what they can charge you--and they'll try to keep you as a customer even if it means losing some fees. Maybe it helped in my case that I had previously mentioned the word "Verizon" (I'm a Cablevision customer and in my area, the two companies are fighting for business). My vague threat of leaving was apparently enough to start the bargaining.
posted by Jemstar at 8:55 PM on April 18, 2009

Thanks everyone! Hello to my beautiful wife!
posted by mds35 at 9:14 PM on April 18, 2009

Consider your signal strength. I keep my landline because my cell phone signal is crappy in the house.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:48 PM on April 18, 2009

When someone stopped breathing at our house and we called 911 on the land line, the paramedics were there incredibly quickly, and saved her life. We live on a strangely named street, and this could have gone badly if the dispatcher didn't see the correct address when we called. I'll always spring for a cheap land line now, even if it scarcely gets used.
posted by Scram at 11:18 PM on April 18, 2009

And who puts 9-1-1 on autodial anyway??

Some cell phones, especially those marketed to seniors and technophobes, have a single use key for 911.
posted by nax at 6:03 AM on April 19, 2009

The answer is “for the next natural disaster,” like the Eastern Seaboard blackout. Your Plain Old Telephone Service set will continue to work in that case, save of course for downed lines and so on. Any phone service that relies on electric power and shared wireless network infrastructure is vulnerable in an emergency.
posted by joeclark at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2009

If you get an old fashioned regular phone, free and emergency numbers (like 911) will still work even if you have no phone plan. Plus it's there if the power goes out and you're having cell trouble.

You've got to get the really cheap ones, like $10 at the drugstore, because they draw power from the phone line. Newer/better phones need more power and thus have to be plugged in.
posted by lackutrol at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2009

i havent had a land line in years. my folks only have one to keep the telemarketers distracted. in-laws only have one for their business.
posted by phritosan at 2:49 PM on April 20, 2009

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