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Should We Ditch the Landline?

What To Consider Before Becoming a Cell Phone Only Family

 My husband, Bond, and I are having a heated debate and it all started when I told him I wanted a smart phone.

Bond: “If you get a smart phone we’ll just go ahead and disconnect the landline.”

Me: “What ? No landline?”

His point makes sense. Our landline is almost exclusively used for screening telemarketers. It rarely rings with an actual call for one of us. The phone service through our chosen cable company adds about $40 to our monthly bill. A smart phone’s Internet service would add about $30 to our cell phone bill, so we’d come out a little bit ahead financially.

However, something about the thought of losing the landline makes me nervous. I mean, we’ve had the same home phone number for almost 20 years. How will (fill in the name of some distant, rarely heard from relative or college friend) know how to reach me?

Then I worry about the safety of it. If there’s a disaster, the cell phone service may hit maximum capacity like it did on 9/11 and we could be unable to call anyone. But if it’s a local disaster, the power might go off so we’d lose the landline. Can the emergency 9-1-1 service locate me if I don’t have a landline?

A Little Help From My Friends

Before I give in on the subject, I decided to consult with a few friends.

First, out of 13 of us who work out of the Augusta Magazine offices there are only two without landlines. Miles Anderson, the art director of Augusta Family Magazine, hasn’t had a landline in years. Neither has Libby Salvador, account executive for Skirt! Magazine. Both are single parents with children in elementary school. Both say they haven’t ever regretted their decision to not install a POT (plain old telephone).

Then I turned to Facebook, posting the question on both the Augusta Family Magazine wall and my personal wall. I received responses on both sides. Here are a few from the Augusta Family wall:

Leslie Mills Wise says, “We’ve been land-line free for about five years now and we aren’t looking back!! We still have our old phone hanging on the kitchen wall and our 5-year-old asked me a few weeks ago, ‘What’s that mommy?’ Haha.”

Courtney Prouty is on the fence like I am and says, “We’re considering getting rid of ours for the first time because we rarely use it. My only hesitation to do so is because of our young son: if there were an emergency and a babysitter were to need a landline due to bad cell reception, dead battery, etc...that kind of worries me.”

My Facebook friends chimed in as well.

Jessica Stanford, of North Augusta, a graphic artist at University Hospital who used to work as the art director for Augusta Family and Lounge magazines, says “I kept my landline for years after it wore out its usefulness, thinking I’d need it in an emergency or if I wanted to have an alarm system installed. After I called a couple of security system companies and realized I didn’t even need a landline phone to have that installed, I cancelled it. I’m so glad I did because it seemed like no matter how many times I removed myself from call lists and added myself to the Do Not Call Registry, I kept getting telemarketers calling. I definitely don’t miss that!”

Donna Mosser, also of North Augusta, let the landline loose three years ago since all three members of her household have cell phones. Like me, their landline calls were primarily from telemarketers.

Jamie McAteer, a father of two toddlers and head of the theatre department at Augusta Preparatory Day School, hasn’t had a landline since 2002. “Just get a cell. That’s all you need,” he says. “The cell is reliable. Leave it on. People can call me there for emergencies just as easily.”

Some of my friends argued that the spotty service of their cell phone services led them to continue paying for a landline. Others cited low monthly landline fees from their Internet carries as their reason to continue landline service. If keeping the landline costs under $10 a month, why not keep it?

Emergencies and Disasters

One of my main concerns about using the landline was dialing 9-1-1. Then I read online that if you use digital phone service (which is what we have), the 9-1-1 service can’t automatically locate your home any better than they could with your cell phone. Am I debating a moot point here?

I contacted my cable carrier and was assured by the customer service representative that yes, in fact, the 9-1-1 service could locate me from my digital landline. So, the debate was still not over.

Then I consulted Pam Tucker, a certified master emergency manager who serves as Columbia County’s emergency and operations director. “I think for economic and convenience reasons, more and more people are dropping their landlines in favor of cell phones only,” she says.
However, Tucker isn’t personally headed in that direction.

“I will always keep a landline and a cell phone,” she says. “For one, I have a fax machine at home.”

Tucker’s number one reason for keeping her landline is safety. “I want 9-1-1 to be able to see my address pop up on their screen should I ever need to call for help,” she says. “Current technology does not provide a quick way for emergency units to locate a person on a cell phone.”

She’s also concerned about times of crisis, such as the recent Hurricane Irene. “Cell towers were overwhelmed and cell phones were not working,” she says of the event.

Tucker says she thinks it’s a personal choice, “but having both provides extra assurances that you will be able to communicate and get emergency help quickly.”

Cell Phone Safety

Rene Hopkins, RN, director of Safe Kids East Central at Georgia Health Sciences Children’s Medical Center says that the safety hazards of cell phone use should be considered before disconnecting your landline. “Cell phones are both a safety asset and a safety hazard, depending on how they are used,” she says.

As a safety asset, cell phones are great for getting help in an emergency situation, relaying information (such as you’re stuck in traffic and need to let someone know you’re going to be late) and staying connected with older children who are starting to enjoy their independence. She also cites the satellite tracking for persons who are missing or may have been in an accident as an asset.

On the negative side, use while driving and walking both pose safety hazards. She also notes the unknown or unidentified health risk related to cancer.

The New York Post ran an article in late last month on the hazards posed by radiation emmitting from cell phones in which Georgetown Professor Devra Davis, a renowned epidemiologist, stated that studies conducted around the globe have found that the radiation emmitted by mobile phones increase your chances of getting cancer.

Other scientists quoted in the article (which can be found by doing an Internet search of the article’s title, “Disconnect: the truth about cell phone radiation” by Brad Hamilton) had opposing views, stating that overall they’re not seeing evidence of increased risk. But Davis counters in the article stating that despite the lack of emperical evidence we should begin protecting ourselves today. She recommends using a landline or using the speaker on your cell phone to decrease radiation exposure.

Losing my landline would mean I would add at least 30 minutes a day to my cell phone use, putting me in the group Davis calls “heavy users,” the group she believes has the highest risk of brain cancer caused  by the emittion of radiation that penetrates the brain’s protective barrier.

The Future of Landlines

A 2010 report by Citi Investment Research, as referenced at, shows that 30 percent of U.S. households no longer have a landline, up five percent from the previous year, with consumers dropping their home phone service at a rate of greater than one percent a quarter.

With this shift in landline use, technology will surely be developed to track individual locations through cell phone calls. It’s just a question of how soon.

Cell phones aren’t the only threat to the future of classic landlines on the copper wire system which are predicted to continue to decrease in use as more households choose to bundle their home phones with their Internet and cable providers, thus switching to digital.

Like Leslie Wise’s child, a time when small children don’t know what that phone on the wall is, may not be all that distant.

As for the future of my landline, Bond and I are still at a standoff on it. I’m on the hunt for a less expensive source for our home line while wants to go ahead and cut the cord.

Either way, this girl still needs a smart phone!

Karin Calloway is the editor of Augusta Family Magazine. She and her husband, Bond, have a teenage daughter and college-age son.

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