A phone for the home
April 29, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I moved to a house that gets terrible cell phone service. I'd like to have a land line phone, especially to have in case of emergencies and power outages. I'm reading about "land lines" that use wireless cell technology, things like Vonage that use the internet, and I am confused.

I want a phone that:
- Stays on during extended power outages
- Gets good, reliable service - the opposite of my cell phone currently
- Preferably has no long distance charges
- No more than $30 a month

I don't talk on the phone much at all. A couple 45 minute phone calls back home each month (to another state), at the most.

I'm leaning towards Vonage but I'm concerned about the ability to make calls when the electricity is out for a long time or if my internet goes out (internet provider is currently Comcast).

The last time I had a real land line was in 2005 through AT&T. It doesn't seem like things are that simple anymore!

Any advice is much appreciated.
posted by little_c to Technology (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Vonage is Voice over IP... i.e. over your internet. If the power goes out, Vonage will go out. Just call your local phone company and tell them you'd like a good old fashioned land line.
posted by matty at 9:17 AM on April 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Correct, VOIP ("wireless cell technology") is not what you want.

Comcast can probably give you this as a bundle with your current internet, see if that price is comparable to buying stand-alone (it might or might not be).
posted by epanalepsis at 9:20 AM on April 29, 2014

And if your local phone provider is AT&T or another cable company, they'll try to sell you a VOIP phone service instead of the old fashioned telephone service, so navigate the website carefully and call if you have to. You may want to repeatedly use words and phrases like "copper land-line" and "actual non-internet telephone service" to ensure you're getting what you want.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:21 AM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your local phone company should still offer regular copper landline service. Not sure of the cost, but unless you are in a new home where copper lines weren't installed or an area where traditional lines were severed and haven't been reconnected you should be fine. Just call AT&T or Verizon, or whoever your local phone company is. Tell them you want traditional copper-line POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) and not VOIP (which they will probably try to sell you as a bundle with DSL service).

If copper line service isn't available, you can look at Comcast too. The "land line" that comes with Comcast is also VOIP, through an integrated VOIP/cable modem. Those usually come with battery backups though, so a local power outage won't affect your ability to make a phone call with an old corded phone as long as the cable system itself is still up and running.
posted by trivia genius at 9:24 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Comcast can probably give you this as a bundle with your current internet,

But again, you don't want that--you want copper wires. You want the phone company (whatever is the phone company in your area).

And, keep in mind, if you're trying to ensure the phone is usable in an outage, you need just a regular corded phone (like an old Princess phone). If you get a cordless phone, the phone will need power to communicate with the base station, and you will be out of luck. The old copper phone lines generally stay up in a power outage, provided you have the right phone.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:24 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

They still sell plain old corded landline phones, they're the only things that will still work if your electricity goes out. Getting landline service is still possible. I too moved to an area with terrible cell reception a couple years ago, and after not having a landline for years and years, I had to get one.

It might take a little research to figure out who your local landline provider is. Ask your neighbors if they have a landline and who it's with, or older coworkers might also still have landlines and recommendations.

FWIW, some landline providers also bundle with Internet, cable, etc. My landline provider (CenturyLink) does this, and you might be able to get a break if you bundle, since you're buying Internet anyway.

Also, and it's not the question you asked, but there are things you can do to make your cell phone work even in areas with no cell reception. T-mobile phones natively switch to wifi for calling when there's no cell reception, and both AT&T and Verizon sell MicroCell/Femtocell devices which use your wifi to act as mini-towers to boost your cellular reception enough to make phone calls, and there are also spendier devices which work for all cell phones, not just a single provider. Google cell booster for more info.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:27 AM on April 29, 2014

How about using Skype for phone calls over Comcast and buying a cheap TracFone for emergency use? If you buy the $9 handset (which works great BTW) and a year's worth of prepaid service with a hundred minutes or so the price comes out to about $5-$6 a month.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:28 AM on April 29, 2014

We have a landline for similar reasons (virtually no cell service, and weak DSL that can't really support a microtower thing-a-ma-jigger). We found a cheap cordless to use. When the power went out, though, we had to make a call and, of course, couldn't w/ the cordless. As it happens, my wife had gotten some antique-ish ('60s, I'm guessing) rotary phones, so we plugged one in and it worked like a charm. Amazing. So keep one of those puppies on the shelf if the power goes out.

I think we pay around $20 or $30 for the landline.
posted by jpe at 9:31 AM on April 29, 2014

There may also be a very long wait to get your land line.
They really don't want to hook up MORE people to the old infrastructure.
posted by calgirl at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2014

Verizon sells a box that replaces the copper wire connection of your landline with a cell phone type connection to your nearest tower. It looks and works line a landline, but it's not. It won't work when you don't have power to the box. for outages, you need a copper wire, or something that works on batteries like a cell phone.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:44 AM on April 29, 2014

We keep an old phone in a drawer to use during outages when the new wireless phones don't work due to no power at the base station.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:45 AM on April 29, 2014

You want a copper landline, also known as POTS. (Plain Old Telephone Service)

Your local phone company will have a few options

1. Message Rate: This is the cheapest rate. You pay a flat monthly charge (depending on your service area, anywhere from $15-$20 per month.) You get an allotment of free local calls, usually 20 per month, and every call after that is .10 per call. This should serve you quite well.

2. Flat Rate: Unlimited local calling for about $20 to $25 per month.

3. Metered Rate: Don't see this in much of the US, but you'll see it in New York, San Francisco. Basically you pay about $20 per month, and then you pay a few cents per minute. I'm not sure this is even an offering anymore to be honest.

If your house is older, you may already have the line in and ready to go. Pop an old phone in the jack and see if you get dial tone. If you do, you can call 911 free. It's called Quickservice and it's preinstalled phone service. If you dial 200-222-2222 you can even see what phone number you already have!

Go outside your house, look for an entrance bridge/network interface. If you have one , you're ready to go! You probably won't need a tech to come out to give you phone service.

Get NO extras on the line, no Long Distance, no call waiting, none of that. I do recommend inside wire service, this means if there's a problem with the wiring inside your house, the phone company will come out and fix it for you. BellSouth charged $2.50 per month. Well worth it.

Also, you'll need a regular phone that plugs directly into the wall jack, not a wireless phone with an electronic base.

These phone lines are virtually indestructible, in hurricane Andrew, whole houses were blown off the foundations, and the jacks rested on the slab. People plugged in and made calls.

I am the keeper of the old phone knowledge. Ask me anything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:45 AM on April 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

If there is an old land line already installed, you may be able to plug in a phone and get emergency service only, at no cost.
posted by theora55 at 9:53 AM on April 29, 2014

You can get a box from your cell phone company that gives you perfect cell phone coverage at home (via the internet). You don't say who your cell phone provider is, but here is the AT&T one as an example.
posted by w0mbat at 9:55 AM on April 29, 2014

You really do need a landline and a corded phone if you don't get cell reception in your house or in the immediate vicinity, because having a cell phone booster will still mean your cell phone won't work if the power goes out. I had a tree fall down onto our power lines at 3am a few weeks ago, and the only reason I was able to get the emergency utility workers out to fix them right away was because I had a landline and a corded phone. I would have lost a LOT of food if I hadn't been able to call the power company. Ask your neighbors who provides their landline service, and get a $20 corded phone.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:07 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Be careful asking for copper. Many areas have upgraded to fiber optic and if you ask them for copper wire they're going to treat you like a nutbar, from my experience asking for the same thing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:07 PM on April 29, 2014

Here's my AskMe on the same topic. I ended up with CenturyLink and an attractive green push-button phone I bought on Etsy. I don't have long distance service on my line, but I believe that was an option. The phrase to use when talking to companies is "dial tone service."
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:37 PM on April 29, 2014

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