Follow-Up: Things You Don’t See Anymore

On December 14, 2015, I published an article at http://bit.ly/2qGwZin, Things You Don’t See Anymore. I described a number of things that used to be common in American life but have since almost disappeared. I listed a bunch of things, including “rotary telephones” and “telephone party lines.” I guess it is now time to update that list.

If I was to republish the list today, I would have to add “wired telephones.”

An article in the BBC News web site points out one major change in the past decade: the number of U.S. homes that have an old-fashioned, wired telephone obtained from the local telephone company has now dropped to less than 50%. That is a number that few people would have dreamed of ten years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed thousands of Americans and found most American homes contain at least one cell phone; but, for the first time ever, fewer than half the homes have a wired phone obtained from the telephone company.

I count myself in the majority: I had my wired telephone disconnected years ago and switched to a VoIP telephone that directed all calls over the Internet. About two years ago, I disconnected the VoIP phone and now use my cell phone as my only phone. Apparently, I have a lot of company as millions of other Americans have made the same decision.

The CDC says 50.8% of homes have at least one mobile phone but no landline, an increase of 2.5% since the same period in 2015. I found it interesting that a further 3.3% of homes surveyed had neither a mobile phone nor a landline. (I am not yet ready to get rid of my cell phone.)

In the UK, the proportion of mobile-only households is much lower. Figures from the telecoms and communications watchdog, Ofcom, show that at the start of 2017, just 18% of UK households were mobile-only.

My thanks to newsletter reader Mike Mallett for telling me about the CDC study.

Comment #1: As genealogists, we should be recording changes in the lifestyles of our ancestors, relatives, and ourselves. If you or any of your relatives have disconnected the phone from “Ma Bell,” perhaps you should record that fact in your database.

Comment #2: If you have marginal or non-existent cell phone service in your home, you NEED a cell phone!

Specifically, you need a dual-mode cell phone that automatically switches between the cellular network and the wi-fi router installed in your home. Dual-mode phones invisibly place calls over the Internet whenever possible, then use the cellular network only when wi-fi service is not available.

If you have broadband Internet service and a wi-fi router installed at home, switching to a dual-mode cell phone will provide crystal clear telephone calls in your home, even when there is no nearby cell tower. It also should significantly reduce the price of your telephone service(s).

Dual-mode cell phones are now available in the U.S. from Google’s Project Fi, Republic Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon; these providers offer built-in wi-fi calling on some cell phones although not all of their phones.

I now use the dual-mode cell phone service from Google Project Fi although I previously used a Republic Wireless dual-mode phone for a couple of years and found it worked well, too. I switched from Republic Wireless to Google Project Fi primarily because Google Project Fi works well on three different U.S. cellular networks plus local cellular networks when traveling overseas plus on wi-fi worldwide. Republic Wireless only works on the Sprint cellular network within the US plus on wi-fi networks worldwide. However, Republic Wireless doesn’t work on cellular networks outside the U.S. but Google Project Fi does. I travel overseas frequently and need the better coverage offered by Project Fi.

I described dual-mode cell phones last year in my other blog at: https://privacyblog.com/2016/08/01/what-is-wi-fi-calling-and-why-would-i-want-it/.

I suggest you first do some reading to become familiar with the concept of dual-mode cellular and wi-fi phones, then purchase a new dual-mode cell phone of your choice and use it as a second cell phone for a while. See how it works out for you at home and in the areas where you travel. If you decide to keep the new phone, you can cancel your old phone and have the old phone number ported to your new phone at any time. Unlike the old-fashioned cellular companies, both Republic Wireless and Google Project Fi allow you to cancel at any time. There are no contractual minimums.

Why pay for two phones? A dual-mode cell phone can do everything your old-fashioned wired telephone can do and a lot more.

Comment #3: I certainly am not a financial advisor, but it seems fair to say that this is not a good time to purchase stock in one of the companies whose primary business is old-fashioned, wired telephone service. I will suggest they are today’s equivalent of buggy whip manufacturers.

13 Comments

Jeanne A Jeffries May 9, 2017 at 11:03 am

We are still wired.

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Something to remember, though, a landline telephone will still work when the power is out due to storms or what have you, but the cellphone that needs charging won’t.

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    —> a landline telephone will still work when the power is out due to storms or what have you

    That is no longer automatically true. That was true just a few years ago, but I would not count on it today. Local phone companies are rapidly replacing their phone systems with modern, state-of-the art digital systems. Many of them run on fiber optic connections, not old-fashioned copper wires. A local telephone lineman who lives in my neighborhood told me they replaced all the copper wires on my street a few years ago with fiber optics.

    Phone companies tend to have lots of backup generators so their systems will continue to run for quite a while. However, in major blizzards or hurricanes that result in longer power outages, once the generators run out of fuel, the systems stop working.

    In many areas, there is an even bigger hazard: ice storms that break tree branches and take both copper wires and some fiber optic cables down. (Many fiber optic cables are buried underground. Not all of them are underground, however.)

    In the area in Massachusetts where I lived for 17 years, the most reliable service during major blizzards or ice storms or power outages always was the cell phones. The cell phones always worked, even when wired telephones did not. (Cell towers also have backup generators and enough fuel to last several days.)

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    I’d like to think that I was the one to push the non-landline homes past the 50% mark 🙂
    We had been holding onto our landline for emergencies, but a couple of years ago Verizon involuntarily forced us to give up the copper lines for fiber. Then, two weeks ago, I lost my job & company-supplied cell phone, so I decided to get a personal cell phone & port my home number — I figured it would be one less number that I had to memorize & give out. That, and the fact that many of my non-tech savvy relatives had already given up landlines pushed me to the decision.

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Hi from the UK
I looked at the Project-Fi website, as Dick’s article looked very interesting as I also do a lot of travelling but very quickly came across this connect from Google – “Project Fi is available only for accounts in the US”
“Bummer” as they say!

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I will wait until the next summer of south Florida hurricanes to test the current reliability of the cell phone system before I give up my landline. I was very grateful for my wired landline during the 2004/2005 seasons when cell towers disapeared. Yes, we also eventually lost our landline as well but that was after 2 weeks without power and the phone company’s back-up batteries finally failed. I understand vast improvements must have been made in the past decade but, until the current system has been tested, I will just wait.

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    In New Orleans during Katrina in 2005, land lines were useless, cell phone towers incapacitated, yet we were able to text without issue. In an emergency, voice isn’t an issue — communication in any format is.

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Whatever the genealogical impact, apps like Skype and Facetime have allowed my children to interact more fully with their grandparents. And that’s a marvelous thing.

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We still have a landline with the ear and mouth piece connected to the set. If it didn’t have a leash, it would get lost by the teenagers. I don’t have a cell phone. I call it freedom. One day, when I give up the landline, I won’t bother with a phone. I connect with people through my laptop. That’s basically what I do now.

I know many though who have ditched the landline in favour of cell phones. Why pay that bill when two (or three) cell phone bills are also being paid. The amount of money spent on communication these days is outrageous.

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    Diane-
    You are so right. And people who are struggling financially seem to have the smart phone instead of a cheaper flip phone as we do. It would be interesting to know how much it costs a family of 4 or 5 all with smart phones??

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    GMF, my youngest and I are the only ones in the family without a cell phone. Still, I have the landline and the Internet. Those two things alone cost about $120. It’s a bundle deal with a huge cable package (my husband’s a TV fanatic), so it would roughly be that. For his cell phone and for the two teens who have them (they pay their own bill), the costs are about $200. All have iPhones. So that’s roughly $320 a month spent on communication. I remember when I was a kid and my mother would complain when the phone bill exceeded more than $20. There is no wonder where a lot of money is wasted these days.

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I’m confused as to why the CDC cares about people’s phones. Are they concerned about virus left by our unclean hands/mouths/noses on phones? Are they planning some sort of contagious disease warning system or a new telemarketing campaign?

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For Diane who wonders the cost of a family of four with all smart phones – we have Verizon, with four smart phones (and is is not paying for any ‘new’ cell phones in the ‘package’) – the cost is about $190/mo with the 8 GB data package which is shared between all four phones. Pricey, but Verizon gets us the most coverage and less dropped calls in the Metro DC area and the travels to the places we frequent out of state. I’m interested in changing to a different service, but unsure of what would work best for us.
Thanks for this article Dick! I learned a few things. I had no idea about ‘dual’ phones and using your wi-fi for making calls. Our current cell phones don’t do that, so will have to check on that when get new cell phones (and maybe change our cell provider). The thing I like best about cell phones, is if you have all your contacts in it, then caller ID will identify them readily. If you have a telemarketer, you can block their number after making sure they are a telemarketer (I check numbers that don’t leave a message on http://www.whitepages.com‘s reverse phone look up before blocking them to make sure). It is also so handy to have your phone AND all the numbers you might need at your fingertips, literally, when away from home. My hubby’s 87 year old mom even carries a cell phone around with her in a carrier that clips around her waist like a fanny pack, in case she were to fall or get in a predicament and need to call someone.
We do still have a landline/internet package with Verizon, but they have done away with installing a back up battery on new installations. We happen to have a back up battery on our from the install several years ago, and have had to replace the battery in it (as Verizon does not even replace back up batteries for those who do have that capability). It is our understanding that a landline with a back up battery will still operate during a power outage for a stipulated period of time (8 hours?), but if there is no back up battery, it likely will not function. This may vary depending on where you live and if the copper lines have been replaced with fiber optic as Dick described in this article. Things, they are a-changing, for sure!

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