Tell me about landlines these days
September 5, 2015 12:35 PM   Subscribe

When we moved into our home in 2012, we got bundled internet and telephone service, but we didn't realize that meant the telephone came through cable modem, instead of being routed through the hardwired phone lines in the house. No biggie - get wireless phones with a "master" base. Now that those phones have all died, we're re-evaluating our phone service. Details inside.

We live in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and the options for ISPs were CableOne, Centurylink and maybe Xfinity. At the time, Centurylink DSL didn't extend to our region (despite all the ads they send us), so we went with CableOne for internet and phone (no TV service desired).

We didn't think about it, but our phone service came as part of our cable modem, so 1) we need a special cable modem, and 2) there is one phone jack, and it's not in the most convenient location. But we got a wireless phone set with 4 handsets. One by one, they died, but because we only really needed one, we didn't mind, until the last one died. The batteries don't hold charge, and I think this area has a problem with power surges that end up shortening the life of some appliances (at least, that's what an A/C repair guy told us when he recently fixed our A/C unit).

Now we're trying to save money, so we'd like to drop the phone service and get some landline that will allow us to use our actual phone lines. We don't use the landlines much, so we're looking for a deal there. This would also free us to buy our own cable modem, cutting both the phone line and modem rental from our internet service. (and a similar service I can't find at the moment) list TDS, AT&T, Frontier, Century Link and Verizon ranging from $29.99 to $44.99/mo. None of those would be a savings over what we're paying now, if we were to lose the cable modem rental + phone service.

In short: is it possible to get a cheap landline outside of major metro areas? We'd be happy with local out only, as we have cell phones we use for most calls already. And are most phone services that are bundled with internet service basically some form of VoIP, routing directly through your modem?
posted by filthy light thief to Technology (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Addendum: we like the landline in case 1) our cell phones die and we need to make some call, 2) it's actually kind of nice to have a home phone with an answering machine, especially as we have two kids and there are a number of calls we get related to them that aren't time-sensitive (ie: ideal for cell phones).

Also, in California we used to get a cheap landline because we had low incomes when we were students, but we probably make too much for that now.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:37 PM on September 5, 2015

Our solution to this was Ooma.
posted by flug at 1:04 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

First off, while I haven't priced landline service recently, I'd be very surprised if you can get anything that costs less than that $29.99 price. Copper networks are not cost-effective to maintain, so there isn't much upside for the telephone company to offer low prices for service. Bundling services almost always end up being a better deal because the idea is to have all of the services coming over the same connection point (cable, telephone, fiber, etc.), so there's not as much of an increase in cost to the provider at that point.

What you might look into is seeing if you can connect your house wiring to the cable modem's telephone jack. This support article suggests that it's possible, as long as you disconnect the house wiring from the phone network.
posted by Aleyn at 1:08 PM on September 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, to answer the question about whether most bundles are VOIP-based, yes, most are. The primary exception is DSL, which uses the telephone network, and can therefore share the wires with normal phone service.
posted by Aleyn at 1:15 PM on September 5, 2015

Also, if there is a problem with power surges in your area, it's not really going to matter if you use cable or phone line as your's an electrical problem.
posted by kuanes at 1:33 PM on September 5, 2015

One quick note about the cable modem "one phone jack" issue: telephone wiring is dead simple, so if your modem is anywhere near a phone jack you can just plug it right in and presto, all the other jacks in the house will be live. It would probably be best to go to wherever the phone company's lines enter the house and make sure they're disconnected before doing this.
posted by contraption at 1:36 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, copper telephone lines are on their way out, and different providers you see are just leasing the same lines, so those options you're seeing are probably the only ones available. You may have more options with VOIP, though.

For what it's worth, when I had a similar issue with my cordless phone sets, I found batteries online for $4 each. It's allowed me to postpone similar infrastructure reevaluation for a little longer, at least.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:55 PM on September 5, 2015

Came here to say the same thing as contraption... it's trivial to hook your VOIP adapter to your house's telephone wiring -- you just plug it into a jack. But you must disconnect your house's wiring from the telephone company first. Even if you don't have phone service from the phone company, they will usually put power and dial-tone on your wires, which would allow for a 911 call.

And yeah, consider new batteries before landfilling your phones because they don't hold charge.
posted by toxic at 2:02 PM on September 5, 2015

toxic's comment made me realize that if your house is wired for 2 lines (4 actual conductors to each jack instead of just 2, you'll probably need to unscrew a jack from the wall to check since the physical connector looks the same) it would be pretty simple to hook up the telco's wiring on line 2, so that if you did have an emergency situation while the power was out you'd be able make a 911 call. If you can't or don't want to bother with the 2-line setup you could also just hook up a really basic (i.e. one that doesn't have its own power supply that you need to plug in) corded phone out in the garage for those emergencies.

Another way to make your VOIP phone system more robust in the face of power problems is to hook it all up via a UPS. My whole home network is on UPS and last time we had a blackout we were able to continue dorking around on the internet right through it. Since cable operators started providing 911 service via their VOIP offerings they've gotten a lot better about making sure their infrastructure stays powered up, so if the equipment inside the house stays on your phones should keep working.

One more point: around here at least, the cable operator doesn't mind setting you up with a second modem just for phone when your phone wiring hub and network wiring hub are in different parts of the house. If you ask you might be able to dedicate their funky special modem to phone duty and bring in your own nice modem for internets.
posted by contraption at 2:27 PM on September 5, 2015

I have a lot to say about conventional landlines vs. VoIP, telecom pricing and the advantages of services like Google Voice, which will give you a number you can forward or take voicemail from, or of having cell phone chargers with reeeeeally long USB cables in case your phones die, but really, I just came to ask:

Did you try replacing the rechargeable batteries in those cordless phones? Cordless phone batteries often last only a few years, power surges or no.
posted by eschatfische at 3:30 PM on September 5, 2015

I'd be shocked if you could open a new landline account. The telcos are trying hard to shove their remaining consumer landline customers over to VOIP or whatever. If you could get a landline account, it would probably cost a pretty penny. We still have our legacy landline and the monthly bill, with no add-ones like caller-ID, is $50+.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:43 PM on September 5, 2015

For what it's worth, the cable modem's phone jack can drive all the outlets in your house if you're using modern phones with a low REN (ringer equivalence number, which is a measurement of how much power it makes to make them ring).

There should be a grey box on the outside of your house labeled telephone network interface or similar. It will have a Philips head screw and a hex head screw you would need a socket driver to open. Unscrew the philips screw, open the door, and unplug the phone cord inside from the jack and close the door. That will isolate your house from the phone company. With that done, you can plug your cable modem into any jack and then all the others will have dial tone through your cable modem. The same technique works for VoIP adapters and the like, should you go that route.
posted by wierdo at 4:46 PM on September 5, 2015

Seconding new batteries and/or Ooma. Unlike some of the other VOIP options, Ooma does have 911 service. There is an initial hardware cost but the monthly charge for the basic service is negligible ("premium" is a bit more), and even the basic service has voice mail that can be checked online.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 7:05 PM on September 5, 2015

Definitely get new batteries...they are usually cheap and as you found out they definitely don't last forever.
posted by mmascolino at 7:17 PM on September 5, 2015

Centurylink is advertising POTS landlines with local calls only at 20 bucks a month here in middle of nowhere Colorado.

It's a bit more if you want long distance, but it doesn't sound like you do. They offered to bundle it with my DSL for ~12 dollars a month.

If you want a landline, just call centurylink and talk to them. Then call Frontier, too, but I doubt they'll beat CL because Frontier is leasing the line from CL. Prices will vary with location, but I wouldn't expect they'd much different in NM than in CO.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:52 PM on September 5, 2015

We have a Obi 100 box ($40 on Amazon), paired with Google Voice (free calls to US and Canada) and Callcentric for 911 service ($1.50/month). One end of the box plugs into the cable modem/router and the other plugs into the (disconnected from the telco) phone jack next to the cable company's cable. Viola! Phone service at all the jacks. I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:48 PM on September 6, 2015

Magicjack is another cheap VOIP option, about $3 a month, if you don't like being tied to the Google environment.
posted by JackFlash at 11:10 AM on September 7, 2015

Magicjack is also small enough that you can take it on the road with you. Plug it into your laptop USB port and anywhere you have a wifi connection, you have your "landline" with you.
posted by JackFlash at 11:25 AM on September 7, 2015

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