Landlines: Who's Still Using Them?

AT&T is no longer required by law to keep "warm lines" connected into perpetuity.


With an increasing number of people choosing to use wireless telephones in their homes over landlines, the question being frequently asked is: Should I keep my landline? 

According to the most recent CDC (Center for Disease Control) study on wireless trends, 21 percent of Californians are wireless-only households. (Note: "Wireless" refers to cellular phones, or mobile phones.) Thirty-five percent are dual-use, meaning they have both landlines and wireless phones.

Nationally, 28 percent of households are wireless-only. (The study reflects data collected from 2007- 2010; the statistics quoted here are from July 2009 through June 2010.)  

Contrary to the image that Californians have as being ahead of the pack in technology trends, Arkansas leads the country in wireless-only households with 35 percent. Rhode Island and New Jersey had the fewest wireless-only households with 13 percent.

According to Lane Kasselman, AT&T director of communications, California is probably trending toward a higher number of wireless-only homes.

"People are asking themselves if it makes sense to have a powered line running into their house," Kasselman said. 

Historically, local telephone corporations, such as AT&T, were required to provide a residential telephone connection even with no customer account attached--also known as a "warm line"--for access to 911 emergency service. 

These warm lines were kept running into perpetuity, even if a building was abandoned or a home was vacant.  These lines, explained Kasselman, are why when the electrical power goes out in your home, you still have phone service (cordless phones notwithstanding). 

"Right now there are approximately two million warm lines in the state and that number keeps growing," said Kasselman.  He noted that that the increase is in proportion to the loss of wireline customers.

Legislation enacted in 2010 amended the Public Utility Code to allow the phone company to terminate the warm lines after four months of non-use. "They can be turned on quickly if anything changes," added Kasselman. 

It's not just about cost says Kasselman. "As a good corporate citizen, AT&T wants to reduce the amount of energy used to keep these warm lines going." In fact, the cost to local telephone companies to energize and maintain warm lines is the same as for active accounts. Since so many people are now using their cell phones for 911 emergency service, energy provided to a warm line at a residence is a waste of natural resources. 

The study also notes that the increasing prevalence of wireless-only households has implications for telephone surveys.

Many political polls, health surveys, and other research studies are conducted using random-digit-dialing (RDD) to landline phones. However, most major survey research organizations are now including wireless telephone numbers when conducting RDD surveys. If they did not, the exclusion of households with wireless-only telephones could bias results. 

Lou Covey, The Local Motive April 16, 2012 at 02:13 PM
We keep a landline through our DSL service simply because cell coverage inside our house is hit and miss.
wolfone May 01, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Me too! Cell phone service too expensive!
Nora Mitchell June 02, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Hey, that's an excellent point and one I'd forgotten all about. As phone users, we usually think about emergency calls as calls out to 911. But our local emergency services provider also conducts emergency notifications via reverse dialing, and it has happened here more than once during the last two years.
Nora Mitchell June 02, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Yes, it's excellent advice for cell phone users. However, users of cordless phones on landlines often don't realize that their calls are just as vulnerable as cell calls. If you're concerned about guarding the security of information you're giving over the phone, use a corded phone.
Steve Sinai June 02, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I only have cell service. A few months after I got rid of the land-line, the phone company came out and literally cut the phone line to my house with wire cutters.


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