Lightning Fixed My Landline. Really?
July 15, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Could a bolt of lightning have fixed my landline?


For several months the landline at my mother's house has been on the fritz. There was a loud hiss of static making it almost impossible to hear.

I keep the line just so Mom can call 911 if there's an emergency and we aren't home for some reason. I use my cellphone for all important calls. Just about the only people who called that number were scammers violating the Do Not Call list, or people to whom I could give my cellphone number, so fixing it wasn't a priority.

Then yesterday during a thunderstorm lightning hit the house.

It fried my cable modem and my router, traveling via co-ax and routing around the surge protector. So I went out to replace them and needed to call my wife. She'd left her phone downstairs, so I called the landline, intending to say, hey, pick up your cellphone.

But there was no static, no hiss. The call was crystal clear.

Coincidence? It's been days since I've picked up the phone, so for all I know the problem was not in the house, but in the line, and the phone company just fixed it and I happened to notice it yesterday. But I've seen no repair trucks around recently.

If lightning DID fix it, how? And should I be worried at what this says about the wiring in my house?
posted by BitterOldPunk to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
What other components were not operational at the time you made the call? Maybe it fried something that was interfering with the line before, rather than fixed the line itself.
posted by Brockles at 2:27 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

It's also possible that it fried something critical, and the phone company replaced it with a newer, better one.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:39 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Brockles: the only other damage was to an icemaker that wasn't surge-protected. It was on a wall that no phone line runs through.

Chocolate Pickle: maybe, but that implies that the phone company had a repair truck at just the right place at just the right time to anticipate a lightning strike, because I discovered the fried equipment within minutes of the event and made the call within half an hour of my discovery.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:44 PM on July 15, 2011

If the equipment that failed was in one of their switches, a half hour is entirely possible for repair time.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:00 PM on July 15, 2011

Is the wireless router still dead? Reason is, cordless phones and wireless routers exist on the same plane of the spectrum, and they can cause interference with each other. (Same with microwaves, FYI). if you replace the router, and the hiss comes back, there ya go.
posted by deezil at 3:03 PM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: Chocolate Pickle: it's a sad commentary on the state of my local phone service that I am more inclined to believe that a miraculous bolt from the blue fixed my phone line than that a phone technician made expeditious repairs, but your explanation makes the most sense. :)

deezil: it's not a cordless phone.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The repairs could have been made in the central office. All that stuff is pretty modular, and usually automatically monitored for catastrophic failures, so they can slide a bad part out, and plug a new one in its place very quickly.
posted by schmod at 3:54 PM on July 15, 2011

Another thought: a connection in the line somewhere between the phone company and your phone had a weak or corroded connection, and the lightning strike caused enough heat at that spot to fuse it together.
posted by stephennelson at 4:13 PM on July 15, 2011

Another possibility: the lightning strike fried something at the telephone company and the system automatically failed over to a backup piece of equipment, which doesn't have the problem with the static on your land line.
posted by kindall at 4:39 PM on July 15, 2011

Best answer: Old land lines in the American South frequently had old style carbon or crystalline lightning arrestors at the demarc. Over time, they could accumulate moisture and crack minutely, causing line noise and static, in the case of the carbon types, or for the crystalline ones, become nearly low voltage diodes with age, causing ringer problems, and clipped, static filled conversations. So, a hefty lightning strike that wiped out such old style lightning arrestors could, indeed, have "fixed" your landline of its static problems.

The bad news is that it might have left you with an unprotected line, in Alabama, in the summer. Don't hold that receiver near your head, especially in bad weather, until you get a phone company tech out to your house to check your line at the demarc, or the DSLAM, and make sure you have appropriate lightning protection.
posted by paulsc at 5:54 PM on July 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Just to be clear, it is a cable modem and not an ADSL modem? If such a modem is running without a line filter on the same line as a phone it can cause a hiss.
posted by chmmr at 2:03 AM on July 16, 2011

Response by poster: paulsc nailed it -- blown arrestor at the NID. The phone guy came out and put a new one in. Thanks, everyone!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:25 PM on August 15, 2011

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