Hello? Any landlines out there?
November 8, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Post-Sandy, we are thinking it would be good to have an old-fashioned landline for future outages. We currently have FIOS phone, cable and internet. When we lost power, after the second day we had no home phone I guess because the battery backup died. So is there such a thing as old-fashioned landline service anymore? And who can I call to get this service from? In central NJ?
posted by mmf to Technology (20 answers total)
You can get landline services from most any of the large communications companies (i.e. Verizon, AT&T, Qwest, etc) - but keep in mind that in big storms, landlines go out, too!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:40 AM on November 8, 2012

NJ Telco Providers.

When I last moved (not in NJ) I just used AT&T's website, which checked my address and let me set it up. I don't think I ever talked to a person.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:42 AM on November 8, 2012

What treehorn+bunny said. My parents have a land-line, the service is from AT&T. But the wires outside the house were severed last Monday night (10/29) and AT&T has still not repaired them and who knows when they will, so, no land-line. Also, most phones sold now have some electrical components to them. You'd have to get an old-school phone that plugs into the jack but not the electrical outlet.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:44 AM on November 8, 2012

It's POTS (Plain Old Telephone Serive) and it's still around. They do go down occasionally, but are usually workhorses and up and running, even if the house is gone. They don't require electricity, but you'll also need to choose a phone set that doesn't require electric either.

If your phone outlets in your house were rewired for FIOS, then you might need to have a tech dispatch to put in a new line for the landline.

Call Verizon (since you have FIOS) and ask them about getting a 1MR (Residential Measured Rate Service) it's typically 60% the cost of a Flat Rate Residential line. You get 30 free outgoing local calls on it, then you spend .10 per call after that. In NJ you may have metered service, where you pay for every call based upon the distance and time. The actual line should be dirt cheap, only the calls will cost you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2012

It's not going to help. My parents have a landline and no service because of downed trees on telephone lines.

Your best bet is to plan to recharge your cell phones, either with a car charger or with that can you burn twigs in if you want to go really survivalist!
posted by DarlingBri at 10:48 AM on November 8, 2012

We do have cell phones, which we charge in the car, etc. But we are in a valley of terrible cell service and often miss calls because we have no bars. SO we think having an option of plain old phone service would be helpful.
I did call AT&T just now and the guy I spoke with said they don't serve our area. Is that possible?
posted by mmf at 10:57 AM on November 8, 2012

I've got a landline with AT&T (in Virginia) and while it'll lose answering-machine capability --- that part is hooked to an electrical outlet --- the making/receiving calls part never dies, even if my cell can't make calls. So yes: get a landline. Ruthless Bunny has it with the Measured Rate service.
posted by easily confused at 10:57 AM on November 8, 2012

You mean Verizon will actually give you your copper back if you have FIOS?!? I'm stunned.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2012

If you're in NJ, I'm pretty sure Verizon owns the copper cabling, and if you call a third party vendor, they'd end up leasing the copper from Verizon anyway and reselling it to you, so you might as well call Verizon yourself. What I'm not sure about (I do not have Fios) is do they disconnect the copper line when they install Fios - if yes, they may charge you to have a lineman reconnect it.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

POTS is useful when you don't have power, but it's been my experience that even when the lines are up if the power/generators are out at the local station or further out, you are SOL.

Solar/crank cell chargers, and set up a phone tree.
posted by tilde at 11:18 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, I mostly use a virtual phone number (right now a combo of OOMA and GOOGLEVOICE) so people can text me there and know I'll get it eventually.
posted by tilde at 11:19 AM on November 8, 2012

Tilde is right about there needing to be power at the telco central office. Happened to my parents with one of the storms (maybe Irene). Their town was out for over a week, and SBC took the generator for the central office to another town that needed phone service more.
posted by neilbert at 11:31 AM on November 8, 2012

Ask your neighbors if they have a landline and if so, which company they use, and call that company. Probably if you have any older neighbors they will still have landlines.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:36 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

After Katrina, my landline didn't work for months. And we had terrible cell service so I pretty much had to run out on the porch and scream into the cell phone. But that was obviously an extreme case.

Anyway, we don't have a landline anymore, but the thing that we missed about it in Hurricane Isaac is that if you're evacuated and you have an answering machine on the landline, you can call home and see if the answering machine picks up, meaning you have power. So landline + answering machine is extra helpful. This year we had to have a friend drive by and see if the porch light was on.
posted by artychoke at 11:39 AM on November 8, 2012

It probably depends on what sort of copper infrastructure still exists in your area. Many times, when your home is wired for FIOS, they remove the copper drop from the pole to your house. You'd have to have them come out and reinstall that, assuming there is even still copper running along your street, but I don't think there is any guarantee that they can or would do so.

Have you investigated the possibility of a higher capacity battery or generator to provide additional backup power to your FIOS equipment? That might be less expensive than paying for a backup copper line, assuming prolonged power outages are a once-every-few-years kind of event.
posted by Nothlit at 11:56 AM on November 8, 2012

If you have FIOS, you probably don't have the traditional copper infrastructure available to you, also the FIOS infrastructure is likely more hardened than the legacy copper infrastructure.

You will not be able to source a POTS line on copper from another carrier than your primary, it might read something different on the bill but the lines and regions are owned by one ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier), there are exceptions to this but they are rare.

If you want to insure you have the best opportunity for telephone service, use cell phones and buy a UPS to plug your FIOS set in to, it may extend the availability of the telephone service in the event that there is a local power problem from your utility and not a problem with the data lines themselves.

If you are really REALLY worried about remaining in contact, go with the UPS and buy two burner phones one different carrier networks. These are prepaid disposable handsets - I would choose Verizon and AT*T, they will possibly use different towers locally and *possibly* use different backhaul infrastructure. However they may lease tower space and backhaul from the same fiber and tower provider in the end, varies too much by geographic area to say really.
posted by iamabot at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2012

I can address the Katrina issue.

In New Orleans every single telephone local exchange was destroyed, save one. If you had a 504 area code, you couldn't use the phone system, not for landlines, not for cell service. If you had a 504 area code on your cell phone, and you had evacuated to Houston or Atlanta, you still couldn't make or receive calls, although you could text (In 2005, texting still wasn't as prevalent as it is today.)

It's rare for a central office to lose power. Typically they have 2 generators AND a roomful of wet cell batteries (like in your car) and enough fuel to keep them going for a week or more.

Katrina and the flooding was unprecidented. Until that time only two Central Offices had ever gone down, both were in Chicago in the late eighties. One was a fire, the other was a flood. In Katrina the only phone company office that wasn't destroyed was the one downtown. (We kept the BellSouth sign on, and flew the American Flag to keep up people's morale)

Here's a paper with some really disturbing pictures of the destroyed central offices. The story is sobering too.

In the past you could only get your phone number to work in your local central office. Now, your phone number can work anywhere.

If the wires from your central office, to your cross box or to your house are compromised, then no phone.

In emergencies, the phone services are prioritized, with residential services some of the last to be restored:

1. FEMA, Red Cross
2. State and Local Government, 911 services,
3. Insurance companies, Banks, Hospitals, fuel pipelines.

If you are a police office or fire fighter and need your home phone for your work, the phone company will restore your service on a one-off basis. After Hurricane Andrew, because I was an essential phone company employee, MY service was restored before my neighbors was.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:46 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I looked into this last year, although not in your area. I found out the phrase I needed was "dial tone service" -- that's what I had to ask phone companies about.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:29 PM on November 8, 2012

We currently have FIOS phone, cable and internet

Maybe I am just confused, but I also have that bundle of service and the FIOS phone that you have (or that I have, anyway) IS a landline. What makes it work when the power goes out is if you have a handset connected to that line which does not require any electric power - it gets it from the phone line. I'm pretty sure that the issue is not a copper vs. fiber issue. I could be wrong.

I have a set of cordless phones in our house. Each handset requires electrical power, but the base station advertised that it does not require electrical power to provide dial tone. It also contains an answering machine and we know that part of the phone set will not work without power, but the dial tone delivered to the phone will work.

I think you should contact your FIOS customer service and confirm whether you already have the line that you need, and if so, then work on getting a phoneset that will work without power.
posted by CathyG at 2:35 PM on November 8, 2012

Unfortunately, this is not just a handset issue.

The reason old twisted-pair copper wire used to continue to provide voice service even during a power outage is because the copper wire could carry not only the voice communications but also the power necessary to operate the non-electric telephone. So if you have copper wiring and an old-fashioned, non-electric phone, you don't need any power at all to use the phone during a power outage (as long as the copper wire is intact).

Fiber, however, does not work that way -- it cannot provide data/voice/television as well as the power to operate any non-electric devices plugged into the system. That's just not how it works. Moreover, Verizon FIOS runs fiber to the home (FTTH) and in many cases (as noted above) they removed the copper drop from the utility pole to the home when they ran the fiber; in some cases, they may have also removed the copper wiring on the other side of the pole running to the central office.

This is why you have a battery backup unit for your FiOS service -- it provides just enough power to the system to operate voice service in the event of a power outage, for up to about 8 hours. (It won't power more data-intensive uses, like television and broadband, and those won't work anyway in the event of a power outage because your TV and computer and router won't be on.)

This is somewhat unique to FiOS, because that service is fiber to the HOME. AT&T's U-Verse, in contrast, is fiber to the NODE (FTTN) -- they don't run the fiber all the way to every home and instead rely on the existing copper wiring to carry the signals from the node to each home. So in some cases, if the original copper wiring still exists past the node, you can still get plain old telephone service (POTS), and that will work during a power outage if you have an old-fashioned non-electric telephone.

FYI, as iamabot noted above, if you have FiOS, that means that the incumbent telephone carrier in your area is Verizon and you therefore will not be able to get AT&T service.

So, short story, you have fiber to the home. Verizon almost certainly removed the copper drop to your home when they built out FiOS in your neighborhood/to your house. They may also have removed the copper wiring past the utility pole. If the copper wiring still exists between the central office and your neighborhood, you can see if they'll restore the copper drop to your house, but they may not; if they do, you'll almost certainly have to pay for it. Ruthless Bunny's comment is right regarding the service you want to request.
posted by devinemissk at 5:44 PM on November 9, 2012

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