Wednesday, April 02, 2014

So long, Wichita Lineman. (Landlines are going dodo bird on us.)

I live in a three-phone household.

My prime phone is my cell, which over the past couple of years has replaced my old reliable landline as my go-to.

I still make an occasional call on the landline. It’s pretty good for conference calls, and it’s the number of record for some credit cards. But mostly it’s the phone on which I receive those completely cretinous “this is your last chance to straighten out your credit card based on the stimulus”. (Say what?) It’s also the phone on which I get fund raising appeals, polls/surveys, and political calls. Those political calls. I mean, the ones invoking Nancy Pelosi, while certainly irritating, at least make some sense. But how, pray tell, did I land on the bombard-with-calls list for a group that asks me to “hold for an important message from Newt Gingrich.” (Say what?)

I have a couple of friends who still use the landline number, but I seldom answer that phone. I am in fear, of course, that Nancy Pelosi and/or Newt Gingrich will be asking me for money (or, in the case of Newt, to listen to some gibberish). So, sorry friends, I only get your messages from the answering machine. (I keep meaning to tell them to use my cell…)

I’ve hung on to the landline for reasons of sentiment  - I’ve had that number for a kabillion years; out of 911 emergency call fear; because I don’t 100% trust cell phones; and because my husband would use it when his Magic Jack wouldn’t do. Which was most of the time.

Truly, his Magic Jack, while certainly cheap enough, sounded like the original days of Voice Over IP. Kind of like hollering down a standpipe.

Anyway, I’m not sure quite what to do with Jim’s Magic Jack number, which I believe is paid up to infinity an beyond.

It’s been down for a while, and I can’t remember the last time either of us used it. I haven’t had the heart to get on his PC and try to figure out how to reactivate it. Maybe some day…(I did remove Jim’s number as my In Case of Emergency on my cell, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to delete it entirely, so Jim’s still on my contact list.)

But whatever I decide to do with that Magic Jack , there’s apparently more of a future in Magic Jack than there is in the likes of my trusty old landline.

Landlines, it seems, are going the way of the rotary dial Bakelite phone, the payphone, and the White Pages. (Wish I could say the same for the Yellow Pages, which seem to have a stake-in-the-heart-defying ability to stay alive. Each year, a shrink wrapped bundle of them is delivered to our building, where it sits untouched for a few days until I cart it out to recycle.) Anyway:

Telecom giants AT&T T and Verizon Communications are lobbying states, one by one, to hang up the plain, old telephone system, what the industry now calls POTS--the copper-wired landline phone system whose reliability and reach made the U.S. a communications powerhouse for more than 100 years. (Source: WSJ Online)

The bigs no longer want to be kept on the hook for making sure that, no matter how remote someone is, they have access to phone service.

The two providers want to lay the crumbling POTS to rest and replace it with Internet Protocol-based systems that use the same wired and wireless broadband networks that bring Web access, cable programming and, yes, even your telephone service, into your homes.

This is, for the most part, not going to be a big deal for those of us who live la vida urban. If “they” make me switch my landline from copper – which I do believe it still is – to IP, I probably wouldn’t notice one way of the other. Other than if and when the day comes when the Internet goes dark.  Other than that, if landline goes IP, I’ll probably dump my landline, bid adieu to my long term number, and make someone who wants a 617, downtown Boston exchange (the one formerly known as LAF-ayette), very happy.

Across the boards, however (i.e., things that don’t involve me), there are some implications for alarm systems, etc., that would need to be worked out before landlines disappear from the scene.

But if you live in the back-ass of nowhere, in one of the dead spots where the answer to the question “Can you hear me now?” is “No,” there’s no alternative to the landline.

Eventually, even the remote outposts will no doubt have wireless coverage. The FCC’s charter is, in part, to make sure that there’s universal telecom access.

In any case, the move to wireless is inexorable. Today, about 40% of all households in the U.S. are wireless-only. That figure was a bit over one-quarter just three years ago. Just as the “young folks” don’t use cash – the guy in front of me at the North Station convenience store the other day paid for a Power Bar using a debit card – they don’t feel any need for a landline, either. It’s the phone equivalent of a black and white TV. Or a TV, period..

Oh, well, just one more thing for us old geezers to get nostalgic about. (Sniffle, sniffle.)

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