Aged relative + phone company = ARRGGH
August 25, 2021 9:40 AM   Subscribe

This might sound confused: because I am confused! My elderly relative is confused! It's possible that the phone company and the ISP are confused! I'm trying to help my relative get POTS landline phone and internet service working again. We think the phone was turned off because bills weren't paid. But now the phone company is saying that they need to install fiber optic service before the phone will work.

Sometime after the phone stopped working the internet (I think DSL, aged relation has no idea) also stopped working. The internet company (a different company from the phone) says they will need to go into the house to set up a new modem, but relative says that they have never had to do that before to switch modems, and does not want the potential COVID exposure.

Relative just wants things to work the way they did before.

This might be easier if the phone company had a reputation for telling the truth, but their history of upselling and incorrect answers makes me question their statements.

I did find a copper line retirement notification for a nearby area on the FCC website but not for my relative's city. This relative is not interested in anything other than plain phone service and basic internet. No streaming, no cable tv, no call waiting. I think the ability to use the phone during a power outage is important.

I guess my question is how to help figure this out. Any ideas about who to talk to? It's been months.
posted by SandiBeech to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's possible that your relative may have been the last customer on the street or area to have copper line phone service and it's also possible that between when service was shut off and now that the local phone/internet company came around and took the copper lines down leaving your relative only with the option to have phone service using the fiber lines.

I don't believe they would need to subscribe to internet service in order to have phone service but don't quote me on that. One thing I would check is whether there is coaxial cable lines still running on the street. You may be able to get service using that but it would be the same as using the fiber line.

If the copper lines were removed from the street I don't think your relative will have any choice or ability to go back to that. It sounds like there was internet service at the address before so you should be able to contact the local companies (Comcast/Verizon or whoever) and see if they have special plans for the elderly. My dad's phone bill from Verizon shot up to something like $64/month at one point until I called Verizon up and got him on the appropriate plan for something like $15/mo. It didn't include long distance or any features like caller ID etc.. but he didn't need them. If cost is a consideration this would be my recommendation.
posted by eatcake at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

This sounds a lot like the copper wiring being decommissioned. Right when my dad was dying my parents' phone company was trying very hard to decommission the copper in their neighborhood, so they kept making really aggressive calls about scheduling an appointment for the service upgrade. My mom kept telling them "not now" and they kept calling, until she read them the riot act with a side of dying husband. They gave her like a six month reprieve at that point, but they did admit that the lines were no longer being maintained, and they told/threatened her that if she had needed any support they wouldn't provide it unless she agreed to the transition.

If this is the case for your relative, then they'll have to start by calling the phone company to get phone service. Phone service may only be offered over fiber, but in many jurisdictions the phone company is required to provide a battery backup on the fiber terminal so the phone will continue working for some number of hours in the event of a power outage. You'll need to check local regulations to see if the phone company is required to provide the battery. If they're not required, the batteries are standard parts you can order from nearly any battery company, and you can slot it in yourself (which is what I did for our FIOS terminal, since in our case Verizon isn't required to provide the battery if you only have internet service).

Further, if the copper has been decommissioned (likely because your relative was the last customer using it) then the DSL company won't be able to offer DSL service anymore, and your relative's lifeline internet service will have to come from the phone company (over the fiber that supports the phone line) or a cable TV provider (over whatever sort of service they provide in that neighborhood).
posted by fedward at 11:01 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Do you have to get phone service from the phone company? A lot of ISPs will hook up a phone as well, which I assume is VOIP but should work as normal inside the house. I would attempt to have a conference call with you, the relative and each company to figure out what is going on. We get our internet from a cable provider (they also offer phone service) and recommend them to others (not Comcast!), so that is a route to try, however they will probably need to be inside the house as well.
posted by soelo at 11:23 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The phone companies have largely switched from installing copper (POTS) anywhere and a regular residential crew in most places wouldn't even posses the right gear to do it. For example AT&T made the switch 6 years ago.

You can get phone and ISP only service from most of the major providers. I would check if they are eligible for the Broadband Benefit, which would make that option very affordable..

I would also consider an Ooma 4g device Then they could plug whatever phone the are comfortable with into it. To make it a more reliable home phone system add a battery backup device (that you will need to check on once a year). I have a fiber data only connection with an Oooma device that has been very reliable and affordable.
posted by zenon at 11:33 AM on August 25, 2021

Best answer: I'm going through something with my mom right now that might be relevant.

Since Verizon is terrible and she doesn't need separate companies for landline and cell, I'm moving her cellphone to AT&T, where her landline is. I found out a couple years ago that she too must have gotten a copper-retirement letter, but whatever the history her landline is no longer copper (proven during a power outage). On preview, what zenon said.

As I was going through consolidating the accounts on the phone, the AT&T helper told me they can't add a cellphone to an existing landline account. What will happen is we'll have the existing landline account, a new cellphone account, then in a couple of months after everything settles, we'll add the landline to the cellphone account and retire the old landline account. THEN everything will be on one bill.

So in this context I think your steps are:
1. Get the landline working again, paying bills or whatever. Don't change the account.
2. Get the internet working again.
2a. Does she have an email address tied to the ISP ( This might be a good time to move her to Gmail or similar if she'll have it, the idea being she can switch ISPs in the future without having to worry about other peoples' contact lists and address books.
3. Either check and make sure Joe's Internet can provide the landline, or simply decide to move her accounts to a single provider (probably a behemoth, but today there are still versions of local ISPs who put local support on resold behemoth lines). The Broadband Benefit idea is great.

In short, get the lines back up, then decide where she should get her internet (who can also take her landline), then add her landline to that account. Landline follows internet if possible.
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on August 25, 2021

Rhizome, assuming your information about Verizon will be helpful to the OP, please say why you feel that Verizon is "terrible." In my experience, Verizon has always been the opposite of terrible. What problems is the OP likely to have with Verizon?
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:14 PM on August 25, 2021

Yeah I should have left that out because the terribleness that I know has been limited to the process of moving the number. First, they make it unnecessarily difficult to pay someone else's bill, a thing other companies reduce to "phone number on the bill and credit card that you want to use." They also make you acquire a "transfer PIN" from their app in order to move off of their service, which is a number that expires in 48 hours and must be supplied to the destination provider in that time period.
posted by rhizome at 12:36 PM on August 25, 2021

Best answer: There are a couple different variables here.

If there is existing POTS, then there should PROBABLY be ADSL available.

Keep in mind that if POTS line is deprovisioned (disconnected), ADSL service will die with it.

So you need to check with your local "baby Bell" company and figure out who owns the local POTS, and figure out the bill paying portion to figure out where was the account last. And try to reactivate it there first. If they say the number was ported to someone else, and we can't help you, then you can either go to that company, or request the number to be ported back to the "home" company, so to speak.

THEN once the regular phone's fixed, THEN worry about ADSL.

I suspect you're getting the runaround because everybody wants to point fingers at someone else "not my problem".

This was a story from my uncle, who works for a baby Bell. He had a customer who heard about one of those fancy VOIP phone services, decided he doesn't want to pay baby bell anymore, and told baby bell to cancel his service. Either he doesn't understand or didn't care that if he cancel the POTS, he won't get ADSL internet, and he can't use his fancy VOIP phone setup. The result was obviously total chaos, as his phone number was ported to the new VOIP carrier, which disconnected his POTS, which disconnected his ADSL. Net result: no phone and no internet. And since baby Bell no longer has the number, the service cannot be reactivated. No idea how that was resolved, but I imagine only after much anguish.
posted by kschang at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2021

You can get a cell phone that looks and acts like a land line - just a base unit and handset and number buttons.

I've added a link, which I can't see ... It's from 2009, but you can apparently still get them.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 2:31 PM on August 25, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks very much for all the helpful answers. The conference call with the phone company did the trick. The person they sent out to check it was told to install fiber optics, but luckily the worker called me and was able to get the work order changed and the copper line working again. Today we try the same thing with the internet company, who when I tried to contact them on my own (relative temporarily lost cell phone), said that I need to give the last four digits of the credit card that was used to set up the service 20 years ago (!!!) to verify that I was authorized to help. And, yes, it is one of those addresses so keeping it would be good. Thanks again.
posted by SandiBeech at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2021

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