Should I cut the cord?
February 28, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Talk me in to (or out of) ditching my landline...

Mr. Arkham and I just got shiny new iPhones and the additional monthly cost is about the same as what we pay for the landline. I'm thinking of getting rid of it but hesitating because of:

1. Emergencies. During 9-11 you couldn't get a cell call through here in DC. Are the cell phone systems more reliable (or at least redundant) these days?

2. DirecTV. Although the guy who installed ours said he personally didn't have a landline at home we sometimes get "you need to make a call soon" messages. We never buy pay-per-view, but I can't find a straight answer about if we really need it or not. (Internet is via cable modem.)

3. Tradition? It seems weird for us to not have a "household" phone. What if someone wants to get in touch with both of us?

4. My own flakiness. What if I lose the phone? What if I forget to charge it and something important happens?

Please hope me! Am I needlessly stuck in the 20th century?
posted by JoanArkham to Technology (52 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
We have Magic Jack for emergency backup and as a "house phone." It's $30 for 3 years worth of service.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:12 AM on February 28, 2011

We keep ours because our cell service in our apartment can be not great. Also, emergencies. No matter how much cell service has improved, living in a big city makes me a teeny bit paranoid.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2011

Also, use Google Voice as your primary number, and have it forwarded to both the cell and the magic jack phone... you won't miss a call due to a lost phone or low battery.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2011

We got rid of our landline years ago when both of us got cellphones. Haven't ever missed it.

We had dish network, which didn't require a phoneline either.. and never had a problem using the service. never used pay-per-view.
posted by royalsong at 9:14 AM on February 28, 2011

I haven't had a land line since 2003, no issues so far.
posted by ghharr at 9:14 AM on February 28, 2011

I have a house phone. It's pretty inexpensive. I like it for tradition's sake as well as a backup in case cell phone isn't working. Honestly, it can be nice. You can use your house phone as the contact for when you order pizza. You can use the house phone instead of your iPhone if you want to have a comfy call to someone.

I think you should keep a landline of some kind, especially since you live in such a large metropolitan area.
posted by Night_owl at 9:15 AM on February 28, 2011

As for 3: If anyone needs to get ahold of both of us, they either text us or they call one of us. We use our cell phone as the contact number for pizza.
posted by muddgirl at 9:16 AM on February 28, 2011

Hardly anyone I know has a landline anymore, and I haven't had one since 2002. When I've needed to make a call without a cell phone, I've used Skype on my computer, but those occasions have been rare. In LA, I did have brief trouble getting a call through on my cell after an earthquake when everyone and their mother was calling out at the same time, but something like the magic jack phone might solve a similar problem for you.
posted by katillathehun at 9:18 AM on February 28, 2011

During the 2003 NYC blackout, I was the only one I knew who could actually call anyone, because I hadn't switched over to a cell yet.
posted by hermitosis at 9:20 AM on February 28, 2011

Lots of people haven't missed theirs and I thought I wouldn't either. And I didn't when I was single. But as part of a couple, you're right -- there are some calls -- usually family -- that are easier for people to make to both of us.

Also, I learned when I only had a cell phone -- that, to be blunt, there are people I need my number (family - both biological and in-laws) who I don't want to be able to get a hold of me anytime, any place. A separate land-line allows me to screen calls in a more believable way. Your need for this may vary, but it's something I didn't consider when I ditched it the first time.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:20 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was in DC on Sept. 11th. The cell networks were completely jammed and no one could get through. Email/web was iffy for a bit as well, due to massive traffic. We were also getting "busy, too many calls" warnings on the land lines as well, but they worked better than the cells that day. I wound up sending important stuff to my husband by fax over a land line.

This is the main reason I still have a land line at home.
posted by gudrun at 9:22 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Clark Howard talks pretty regularly about getting the tariff rate, which is a government-controlled rate, from your phone company. You should be able to call your service provider and see if they can drop your landline down to that rate.

Personally, I don't have a landline, haven't needed one or missed one in about two years now, but I also don't live within the nucleus of a major city. Also, consider that 9/11 happened nearly ten years ago. I don't have the hard facts to back it up, but surely cell tower technology has improved since then.
posted by litnerd at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2011

For years the only people that called our landline were spammers. Even though we were on the Do Not Call list, we got at least one political/non-profit/Fraternal Order of Police/marketing survey call a night. Finally we realized that it was stupid to pay for having our time wasted. We've never missed it.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't experienced a disaster with a cell phone, but for other large-demand events like concerts, often a text message will get through when a cell call won't. It will be delayed by half an hour or so, but it will get through.
posted by muddgirl at 9:25 AM on February 28, 2011

Adding my voice to the haven't missed it crowd, and also suggesting a Google Voice number for people / entities you would rather not have your cell number.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2011

I haven't had a landline since 2000. This year we got one again as part of a bundle, and I LOVE it. The sound quality is amazing - no clipped voices, no distance, no tinny sounds. I can't believe how good it sounds! We obviously still use Skype/iChat/video chat and our cell phones all the time, but for a good quality phone conversation, the landline has been great. Not sure how much I'd actually pay for it, but if it's free or within the budget, consider keeping it and see how often you use it!
posted by barnone at 9:27 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have a large old condo where sound does not carry; I do not carry my cellphone in my pocket when I'm at home; if we did not have a house phone, I would never answer the phone when I was at home. The same was actually true when I lived in my small two-room old condo where sound didn't carry. We use Vonage, which sucks when the internet goes out, but is otherwise fine. Also, there are two of us here: I like a voice mail box and a phone number we can both easily access without having to borrow each other's cellphones.

Our door buzzer isn't hooked up to the phone, but at my old place it was. They could hook it up to your cellphone, but in a neighborhood where people will randomly hit buzzers, hoping to get let in to the building, it's pretty annoying having it ring your cellphone at work or dinner.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2011

We keep ours because we have a kid, and sometimes the kid's babysitters (or grandparents) don't have cell phones, and we want them to have a phone, obviously. It's cheap.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:30 AM on February 28, 2011

I have a landline because our cell phones don't work at our house. If you do decide to cancel, give it a good week to make sure your cell coverage is going to be consistent.
posted by something something at 9:34 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I work for the government (but not for one of those "important" places like the Pentagon.) I am really dubious about how much the cell service for ordinary people and services in the DC area would really be able to cope with another emergency on a big scale, even 10 years after Sept. 11. Cell reception in the Metro is still iffy on certain lines and in certain stations, even if you use Verizon, for example. I assume they worked to have stuff set up so places like the White House and Pentagon and military will be able to communicate, but, call me cynical, I still don't trust that regular cell service for ordinary mortals could cope (or would be a priority).
posted by gudrun at 9:35 AM on February 28, 2011

The audio quality of my mobile is not as good as a land line. Otherwise, no regrets about ditching it 6 or so years ago.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on February 28, 2011

I have DirecTV, I have never had a land line. It works fine. I'm not sure what the "need to make a call soon" message you're describing is; I've never seen it.
posted by phoenixy at 9:44 AM on February 28, 2011

We insist on having a landline at our house.
Anecdotal data point: I was at a friend's house helping fix an Internet connectivity problem. We called tech support and they had us reset the cable modem by sticking a paperclip onto the reset pin on the cable modem. POOF! no more tech support on the line, the phone line reset too!
posted by Drasher at 9:45 AM on February 28, 2011

We keep our landline for a few reasons. The power often goes out here and I'm notorious for allowing my cell phone to go to red before charging it; with the landline, I don't have to worry about being able to make calls when there's no electricity. Our mothers don't have cell phones and when they come to stay with us are sort of confounded by ours, so we keep the landline for them, too. I didn't want my children's friends to call me or my husband on our cell phones and one of them still isn't old enough to have one of her own, so her friends call her on the landline.
posted by cooker girl at 9:51 AM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. A lot to consider. I've never bothered with Skype or Google voice before. Also, we pay about $70 a month for the landline, and it would be about $55 without extras.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:52 AM on February 28, 2011

I paid $20 for my landline. I kept it a year and never used it once in that time. I dumped it. Try to go cold turkey. If you make it a month I am thinking you're good to get rid of it.

Also, dump all services on the line and see how much it costs then if all you want is the emergency phone.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:55 AM on February 28, 2011

$70 (or $55) is a whole lot of money to pay for something might possibly potentially maybe be useful in the event of a giant disaster like September 11th. Call screening is pretty easy on cell phones (just look at the screen) and you can always make the excuse that you were driving, on the metro, didn't have reception, etc.

I just can't imagine spending all that on something that's barely useful at all. My parents' land line is mostly called by salespeople and pollsters.
posted by The Lamplighter at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2011

I keep a land line for a few reasons. The first and silliest is that I just like the number combo that I got. Also, I want to be in the phone book for professional reasons. Thirdly, I want to make myself available for polictical polling. It hasn't happened yet, but one of these days Rasmussen is going to call and I will give them a piece of my mind on a 1 to 5 scale and things will change for the better goddamnit.
posted by greasy_skillet at 10:01 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in earthquake country. At my next place, I'm ditching the landline. Cell plus internet connection with UPS are sufficient for my needs. If it's a national disaster and I need to call relatives across the country to tell them I'm alive, I can knock on the neighbor's door.

If you want cheap phone service and don't like fiddling with tech stuff, I highly recommend checking out Ooma (sold at CostCo, among other places). Plug one end into your router, the other into your phone, and you're done. It just works.

The box is under $200, and the only monthly cost is the mandatory Federal and State taxes ($3/mo in my city). Otherwise you get free unlimited calling in the states, and unlike the MagicJack, you don't need to boot up your computer to make or receive calls.
posted by zippy at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2011

Oh, jeez, yeah. That's a lot of money to dole out "just in case." Our landline runs about $20 a month, no frills (just caller ID). Are you sure it'll be $55 on the bare-bones plan?
posted by cooker girl at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2011

I got rid of mine back in 2004, and I haven't missed it at all. I lived in a house with a landline for a few years after that and I never once picked it up to dial out.

That said, I'd assume that if you have kids you probably need a landline. And what earlier posters said about call quality is true. If you talk on the phone a lot you might miss the quality. Still, $55 seems like a large monthly charge. Maybe you could keep it, but switch your service so that it's basically only seriously local calls. No long distance (use your cell for that).
posted by clone boulevard at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2011

i've been a lot of years without a landline. never missed it.
posted by nadawi at 10:40 AM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: We don't have any kids, so that's not a consideration.

I just asked Mr. Arkham to check the bill, and it looks like we're getting also charged $6 a month for not making the minimum number of long distance calls! When we get a chance I'm going to look into what a really BARE bare-bones phone would cost. I'd be ok with paying around $20 a month for something just for emergencies.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:41 AM on February 28, 2011

I've gone with and without a land phone in recent years. I like having unlimited calling--I don't like feeling like the meter is running when I'm talking. So previously I had the unlimited minutes on my cell.

Then I wanted to get cable TV (which isn't hip, but Hulu and piracy don't cut it for me.) They threw a phone in, so I took it and cut my cell phone minutes back and I use the land phone when I'm at home.

I don't know how many iPhone minutes you have. But you already have cable modem and DirecTv; you might want to think about getting a triple bundle from the cable company. It might save you money even if you don't use the phone.
posted by massysett at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2011

1. Forward your land-line phone to your cellphone for a month.
2. See if you're still alive after a month.
3. Cancel land-line.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:19 AM on February 28, 2011

This is probably common knowledge, but you do not need phone service to use a landline to call 9-1-1. So, in case of a real emergency, as long as you have the physical phone, you can still call emergency services.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:25 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

if you keep the line revert to the most basic service usually around $12.00/month plus bullshit taxes and fees to payoff the Crimean war or some shit. So about $17.-$18. month. I have to keep my land line for the alarm system. Brinks still won't guarantee connectivity with VOIP. Also my mom never learned my cell #.
posted by Gungho at 11:37 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Ask about a "measured rate" plan, which is cheap as you can get. You'll get charged for outgoing calls after a certain amount, but all incoming calls are free. We had measured rate for a while (a landline was a requirement for DSL service where we lived) and used it in conjunction with Google Voice to make outgoing calls for free.
posted by zsazsa at 11:43 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

One winter, we had a blackout that lasted almost the entire weekend (about 40 hours). In that situation, having a landline was very useful.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:59 AM on February 28, 2011

i love the 20th century. even though i dropped my cell phone in the toilet at the movie theater after watching a great flick two weeks ago and i lived in nyc on 9/11, i was able to use a phone at home both times. (i also love handwritten date and contact books, because i have all my info, despite the toilet).
posted by anya32 at 12:04 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

"This is probably common knowledge, but you do not need phone service to use a landline to call 9-1-1. So, in case of a real emergency, as long as you have the physical phone, you can still call emergency services."
posted by bookdragoness at 2:25 PM on February 28

The "not subscribed can still call 911" rules in many areas of the U.S. are for cell phone systems, not land lines. In most land line situations, if you don't subscribe, you don't get dial tone on a land line. That's usually because a physical or electronic connection is lifted at the DSLAM or at the switch center when your subscription runs out, rendering your circuit pair disconnected from the rest of the phone system. In a wired land system, doing that as a matter of operating practice reduces the number of times the central switch has to recognize an instrument pickup and provide dial tone on nuisance situations, as well as limiting the power the central station's backup batteries/emergency power needs to supply to the wired instruments connected (ringer equivalents), thus speeding up switch operations, and preventing overload of the switch and its backup mechanisms in high usage/power outage situations.

If you don't get dial tone on a land line, you can't call 911, or anywhere else, because the switching system isn't listening to your instrument. Providing basic emergency dial tone to non-subscribers is much less of a physical problem on a wireless system, where doing so is no hit to emergency power capacity, or nuisance switching.
posted by paulsc at 12:08 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Surprise, surprise...there is no info about super-cheap landline plans on the Verizon site that I can find. I suppose I'll have to call a human and ask, once I have a bill in front of me to reference. Thanks, all!
posted by JoanArkham at 1:12 PM on February 28, 2011

I feel like living in a big city means you have *less* of a reason to have a landline. If I lived out in the country I would want to have a backup method of communication (assuming, that is, that I even got cell service anyhow), but I feel like I could always go knock on a neighbor's door (or a nearby business) in case of a real emergency. Obviously if everybody thought the same way as me and gave up their landlines, that wouldn't work anymore. But I'm not worried about that for the near future.

I haven't had a landline for the last six or seven years, and I haven't missed it. I was a little annoyed when we got rid of the landline at my family's camp (aka summer cottage, lake house, whatever) because it was always nice to have the option to just call the camp phone and see if anyone was around. And then I changed carriers and my new carrier doesn't work at the camp, but that's actually kind of nice - I like being unreachable once in a while.
posted by mskyle at 1:19 PM on February 28, 2011

I'm in northern California. $9/mo for no frills, no long distance plan* landline service. It includes several hours of calling within a 12 mile radius. GoogleVoice (formerly GrandCentral) for the rest, free.

Been doing this for years, happily. The key is to insist that the phone company remove long distance service from your line altogether. They default to hearing that as "I'd like to switch to a different long distance plan..." Not the same thing.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:37 PM on February 28, 2011

From a risk management perspective: keep a land line and a hard-wired phone (i.e., not cordless) plugged into it. Why?

The land line phone system runs off an alternative power grid run / managed by the "legacy" phone companies (i.e., Verizon et. al.). This is why, when the main grid goes down, land line phones (provided that they don't require a transmitter plugged into the main grid) almost always work.

Now, yes, it is possible for something to occur resulting in both systems being brought down leaving everyone effectively incommunicado. In my experience (over a handful of decades), the main power grid has gone down far more often than the land line phone system, and I can't recall an occasion when the land line phones went down other than very rarely and very briefly for line maintenance (or maybe a car accident pulling down a telephone pole).

(Remember that big summer blackout some years back? 2003 maybe? Cell phone service was dead in the water but land lines worked. When I was a kid, there was this huge blackout on the east coast that went on in some places for days (as I recall); two things worked: phones and stoves that cooked with gas.) (I will also observe that, for a kid, that blackout was a great adventure!)

Cell service runs off the main power grid; see (1) above. This could be a huge problem in a significant emergency. Granted, big bad things don't happen often, but there is something to be said for a cheap hedge of the risk thereof.

Cell service, at least in my experience in the US, is not nearly as reliable as land line service.

Cell service has poor sound quality, which annoys me. It makes for less efficient communications.

Cell service is far less secure: if I have something very important or really confidential to discuss, I don't do it on a cell phone.

Just my two cents.
posted by cool breeze at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chiming in late, but I wanted to provide my experience. I've had VOIP for going on 8 years without a landline without any issues, including a year in LA where we lived in a controlled building that had a callbox linked to our phone. I recently downgraded the VOIP service (Vonage) to the $15.99/month for 500 minutes (only available to existing subscribers, $17.99 for new customers). With our cellphones, the Wife and I use far less than the alloted amount. Granted, the only people that call that number are her folks.

Cellphone service can be spotty, but wireless companies will continue to spend billions on building out their infrastructure. Cell reception in a spotty area will suddenly disappear.

One thing to keep in mind about a residential phone jack - as long as it has not been disconnected from the main POTS line from the phone company, it can still make 911 calls. So just keep a regular phone plugged in for emergencies (regular corded phone would be better) and just use the cellphone.
posted by Jim T at 2:36 PM on February 28, 2011

I stopped using a landline in 2000. During the power outages after hurricanes, people with cell phones get the recording that all circuits are busy. The local authorities and cell phone providers remind us to text messages instead of make calls. This works because it goes through as data (or something -- I'm not sure of the technology, but the idea is that it is different plus faster, and the data lines are set up to handle more traffic because of emergency situations). Texting always goes through. I've had no regrets. $70/month for 11 years is $9240!
posted by Houstonian at 2:39 PM on February 28, 2011

One winter, we had a blackout that lasted almost the entire weekend (about 40 hours). In that situation, having a landline was very useful.

There are solar chargers for iphones, including one from eton (the people that make the hand crank emergency radio). That would be far cheaper than maintaining a landline for such an unlikely event.
posted by special-k at 2:40 PM on February 28, 2011

I can tell you all the reasons that we've decided to hang onto a land line, every time it comes up. Probably most of them don't apply to people who aren't rural, but maybe one would be helpful.

* Cell phones get crappy reception here. Probably not something most people need to care about.

* Sometimes we have emergencies where we HAVE to be able to be reached, and the cell phones aren't reliable enough for that. Our emergencies generally relate to pets, return calls from vets, etc but if we had kids, it'd probably apply too. We also have a family member who may need us to run over and provide care at a moment's notice; we must be able to be reached.

Cell phones can still be strange about connections sometimes; one memorable incident, I couldn't reach Mr. G when he was in the area that should have had the best reception in the county. He finally got notification of the (multiple) voice messages 4 hours later, sitting next to me, at home*. There should have been no problems with that call getting through or the VMs getting through, either--and even if there was a problem, why didn't they come through half an hour later, or an hour, or? Cell phone systems can just be unpredictable sometimes.

* We've lost power for days at a time, during which time we obviously couldn't recharge cellphones. We have frequent short power outages, which means anything using the DSL modem wouldn't be reliable, either. Landlines and cell phones both work during the short power outages, but MagicJack etc would not. Cell phones would be a problem during the longer power outages. Probably not something most people have to worry about.

* If anyone else happened to be visiting during an emergency, they'd have no idea how to give accurate directions to our place to emergency services. If we were incapacitated badly enough, we couldn't either. A landline will at least tell 911 exactly where we are, if we can manage to dial 911. Since this is a reason to keep a landline but not something we've ever had come up, I don't know how much of a worry it would be for anyone else either.

*with both of us watching the brand-new foal that was the reason for all the calls. Boy, was he shocked to get home and see that she was born--and hey, why didn't I call him to let him know? *Bzzzt* You have four new messages.
posted by galadriel at 2:42 PM on February 28, 2011

I found an article that explains why texting works when cell phone calls do not, during emergencies: In an emergency, why cellular data is better than voice. If your worry is about not being able to contact others because the circuits are busy, this should alleviate that concern.
posted by Houstonian at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2011

"... One thing to keep in mind about a residential phone jack - as long as it has not been disconnected from the main POTS line from the phone company, it can still make 911 calls. So just keep a regular phone plugged in for emergencies (regular corded phone would be better) and just use the cellphone."
posted by Jim T at 5:36 PM on February 28

If you plug in a regular wired phone set to a POTS jack, and don't immediately get dial tone when you go off-hook, you won't be making any calls, emergency or otherwise. And in very few instances will the CLEC allow a switch to continue providing power and dial tone to an unsubscribed POTS line, for the reasons I've cited, above. If you want the security a wired POTS line offers, you pretty much have to pay for the privlege, anywhere in the U.S., excepting situations where governments have entered into operating agreements with certian providers to provide low income and handicapped folk wired land line service without charge. The majority of services available to income limited and mentally disadvantaged folk are wireless, cell-phone services.
posted by paulsc at 3:47 PM on February 28, 2011

Coming back to this thread to say that this article about what is and is not working well in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, may be of some interest to you, and I quote ""Mobile phone (3G networks) pretty much died. Land lines were OK," he wrote." The internet seemed to do pretty well also.
posted by gudrun at 6:53 PM on March 12, 2011

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