Killing the landline: a dubious idea

A recent Lockergnome post details AT&T’s surprising request to the FCC: setting a date for the sunset of analog landline service.

And my take on this may surprise many, but I think this is a mistake. I have noticed a steady decline in the quality of telephone communications ever since the rise of the wireless phone. Prior to 1990 sudden disconnects were relatively rare. They did happen, but not how they happen now. During frequent marathon phone conversations with a friend of mine about a year or so ago, we used the phrase “kitchen phone” or “bathroom phone” every time a call got dropped when I was in those rooms of the house. It was crazy. This never happened with a cordless phone plugged into a landline.

I will admit I have only occasionally used VOIP lines (similar to a landline, except the call is routed over the Internet) and I don’t use Skype. (I had a Gizmo account some years ago but never really used it.) I have called a Skype number and there have been a couple of times where the line quality became unusable (the last 5-6 seconds of the call would just start repeating like a broken record and/or skipping and glitching like a scratched CD).

Plus there is the issue of emergencies. Text messaging (and I’ve posted before on the outrageous markup on text messages) is sometimes the only usable application on a wireless network after a disaster. During a power outage it is very likely that VOIP service will be completely unusable. Analog landlines have been built to function after some disasters; they aren’t disaster-proof by any means, but they are the most likely type of telephone to be usable after, say, a hurricane or tropical storm hits.

Pay phones have been a traditional backup to mobile phones, and would also potentially be affected by the sunset of analog landlines. This is especially true for areas where cell tower coverage is spotty, although having a phone croak (low battery, or sudden failure) can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I’m not expecting the huge wall of payphones inside of shopping malls like we would have seen up until the early 1990s, but it’s reassuring to know the option is there. I dread explaining to my future kids that yes, that thing the guy in the movie put a quarter in is a telephone.

At minimum, work-alike alternatives to analog landlines need to be deployed that are equally reliable. That is, in fact, the one thing I miss about landline phone calls: reliability. It’s enough to make the likes of Alexander Graham Bell roll over in his grave.