1 Are Land Lines Worth It? | The Billfold

Are Land Lines Worth It?


I have not had a land line for about eight years. My children, who are seven and 10, have no concept of a land line. To them, phones go with you. But apparently, if research by the fly-by-night outfit known as the Centers for Disease Control is to be believed, most people still have land lines—not as many as before, but still a majority. The only demographic group in which a majority of people have only cell phones is poor people.

This yields many interesting insights about poor people, but leaves me with a big question about not-poor people: why do they keep their land lines? I realize that land lines aren’t very expensive, and that not-poor people pay for a lot of things they don’t need, but why land lines?

I suppose, theoretically, that land lines are handy in a prolonged power outage, but really, is that how we’re living? Are we keeping our ham radios and pagers and switching over to gas stoves in anticipation of electrical grid failures?

Or is there something else wonderful about land lines that I’m missing? Go ahead, dear readers, sing me their praises.


Photo by the author.


38 Comments / Post A Comment

Pitts (#5,529)

I wonder what the percentage is of people who have landlines because it came bundled with their internet and cable.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Michelle Pittman@facebook That was my thought, as well. A lot of times they’ll offer a lower monthly price if you just sign up for all 3.

There are other considerations as well: a landline could be tied into an alarm system. Or, you could have terrible signal in your apt/house, as my dad does. He keeps his cell phone on call forwarding to his land line, because otherwise he’d miss all the calls.

sony_b (#225)

We have one because we have DSL. There’s no actual phone plugged in, but we pay for the line.

@Michelle Pittman@facebook Ditto – I currently have a physical phone and land line set up kit from Comcast that has been sitting in a box, unopened for over a year because it was the only way to get our bill down after it (unsurprisingly) kept going up.

I can’t afford one, but the sound quality of land lines is waaaaay better than any cell phone I’ve ever used.

Trilby (#191)

@Sarah Rain@facebook Yes!!! Much much better. And two people can talk over each other, interrupting in a normal way.

AnnieKate (#7,099)

I have a landline because I live in a brick townhouse in a rich neighborhood that won’t allow cellphone towers, so my reception is terrible.

PicNic (#3,760)

The only reason I have a landline is because it was bundled with my internet/cable and getting it lowered my overall cost by about $30/month. I don’t have a phone plugged in or know my number.

sherlock (#3,599)

The study you linked to says there are five demographics, not just one, with a majority of people only having cell phones, including adults aged 18 – 34 and Hispanics. The age group difference seems like it’s the key to me – I bet that it’s more of a legacy thing (i.e. people who have had a landline since before cell phones were so prevalent have kept it, but new households formed more recently don’t ever establish one.)

Lily Rowan (#70)

@sherlock Yeah, I think that’s right — and people who were coming up at the same time as cell phones have also been more transient during that time. So, my mother will never get rid of the home phone number she’s already had for 30+ years, but my cell phone has been my one consistent phone number.

@Lily Rowan @Sherlock Ah! This seems more plausible.

jmdj (#2,994)

We ended up having one installed for the sole purpose of buzzing people into our condo building. If we attached one person’s cell to the door buzzer- the other roommates cannot let guests in.

I have always had horrible cell reception in my house anywhere I have ever lived, not to mention an ongoing problem with my cell that NO ONE could hear me (until I took my out-of-warranty iphone apart and fixed it, so if I want to communicate with anyone I need my land line. ATT, by the way.

Susan Tidebeck (#5,691)

I have a LAN line that is voice over IP and is incredibly cheap, $125 per YEAR. I got rid of my cellphone because it was $90 per MONTH and not worth the horrible quality. My conversations consisted of “HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME? YOU’RE BREAKING UP!” along with digital artifacts that sounded like someone slapping the floor with a wooden plank in a bathroom. This was 2013. Yes. I complained (a lot of good that did). I never liked cellphones. Now when I leave my office I am OUT. I’m sick of other people’s emergencies.

@Susan Tidebeck That last bit is something worth exploring – how we used to do planning and how we do it now. A friend of mine often pines for the days when everyone’s plans just depended on showing up to a certain place at a certain time.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@Josh Michtom@facebook In my day, if plans were changing, you called your home answering machine from a pay phone!

garli (#4,150)

@Josh Michtom@facebook Dude YES. We all have to get to our jobs/school/what ever on time when you were planning on it every day. Why has the act of making and keeping plans become so different?

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Poor cell coverage in certain rural areas make a landline a necessity.

dotcommie (#662)

my mom keeps urging me to get a landline because if you call 911, they know where you are, which isn’t always the case with cell phones. also, you can always dial 911 on your landline if your cell happens to be dead. i have not gotten one, though.

@dotcommie FCC regulations require all cell phones to have some kind of something inside of them (magical demons, I imagine) that lets emergency services know where the call is coming from. It’s not super-duper accurate, because they triangulate using cell towers, but it’s pretty good.

Allison (#4,509)

@Josh Michtom@facebook it’s not demons, it’s gremlins.

clo (#4,196)

No cell service where I live, so I have a VOIP landline (Ooma, approx $5/month). I’ve had one in other apartments so I could work from home and also because it came with my internet for no extra fee.

A-M (#4,317)

I know some people have them to help with trying to reach kids — if one parent is out of town, or if it doesn’t matter who to speak to, a land line can be better. Also for telemarketers!

EmilyStarr (#4,035)

I resisted getting rid of our landline for many years because of emergencies. I was in DC, and my family was in NYC, on 9/11, and cell phones were essentially completely worthless. I stayed at work just so that I knew I’d be near a working phone. We finally got rid of both our landline and our cable two years ago. Now, with kids, I sometimes think it would be good to have a landline again so that they could easily dial out in case of emergency (we lock our cellphones, but they do also have an emergency call function that we can just teach the kids to use).

Trilby (#191)

I am a rare person who could afford both but chooses not to have a cell phone. My landline comes with my cable bundle and cost of cable would be MORE if I eliminated the phone, which is idiotic but I don’t make the rules. The landline gets much better reception than a cell phone. “Reception” is not even a concept with landlines. I must say it’s pretty weird that poorer people have cell phones instead of landlines. Cell phone plans are much more expensive. Maybe someone should tell poor people that.

Allison (#4,509)

@Trilby but cellphones can travel with you, your number doesn’t change if you move in the middle of applying for work, you don’t have to cancel your service and get it set up again if you move. If the cell is also their primary access to internet and email, then I’d say it’s well worth the difference in price.

@Trilby In my area, a standard landline is $35/ month with taxes and fees; I pay less than $12 for my cell.

@Trilby I suspect it has more to do with flexibility than anything else. You can keep the same cell phone number when you move without doing anything, even if you are moving from couch-crash to couch-crash. It offers portable internet access. You can get fairly inexpensive prepaid month-to-month plans, which are nice when you’re not sure of your ability to consistently pay a monthly bill. The prepaid burners are pretty easy to pick up in a lot of corner stores, and don’t require a credit card/bank account number, a mailing address, etc. The barrier to entry and irregular upkeep just seems lower.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Trilby You have a land line and not a cell phone?! This blows my mind.

Elsajeni (#1,763)

@bowtiesarecool Yeah, this strikes me as a place where the idea that it’s expensive to be poor* comes into play. A land line might be cheaper in absolute dollar terms, but when you factor in barriers to entry like the ones you listed, the advantage of portability, the ability to use it for internet access, etc., the cell phone becomes the “cheaper” choice.

*Or, the Samuel Vimes Boots Theory of Economic Injustice: if an expensive pair of boots costs $50 and lasts 10 years, but a cheap pair costs $10 and lasts one year, you save money by buying the expensive pair… which isn’t much help if you only have $10 and you need new boots right now.

limenotapple (#1,748)

@Allison I was coming here to say exactly this. In my last job, I worked at a community college in a socioeconomically depressed area, and it’s this exactly. Also, my monthly cell bill is a lot cheaper than my landline bill ever was.

chevyvan (#2,956)

@Elsajeni Also, you can get a prepaid cell phone with no credit check and no need for an address. In poor communities, the cell phone is a status thing (just as much as it is for every other community). You can see people walking around with fancy smart phones but many people either have a prepaid plan or a plan without data included.

You need a land line if you have kids because when they get to standardized testing, they’ll see a picture of a home phone but won’t be able to identify it and get put in ESL! Seriously happened to my coworker’s son.

Otherwise, I got nothing. Haven’t had a landline in about 8 years also.

honey cowl (#1,510)

My parents got rid of their land line years ago and I’ve never had one. When you move every single year your cell phone number is the one constant in your life.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@honey cowl This. We’ve been moving every two years and I’d feel even more out of place if I hadn’t had the same number everywhere. Plus it’s fun to play the “where is that area code from?” game when exchanging phone numbers! I’d had my number since I was 13 and it’s practically part of my identity now.

jquick (#3,730)

I suspect most older folks 70+ still have land lines. My parents don’t own a cell phone (or any computing device).

RachelW (#2,605)

@jquick Yeah, my parents have a land line and use it pretty much exclusively. They do both have cell phones (the cheapest you can buy), but those are strictly for emergencies only, and they really do not understand how to use them and refuse to be taught.

grog (#2,222)

I’m a dinosaur who actually has 2 land lines. I telecommute full time, so I need a dedicated, reliable, good quality line for that. I could probably get rid of my household land line, but my prepaid flip phone doesn’t get good reception in the house.

I should look into VOIP though, since it’s probably cheaper.

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