Are Landline Phones Going Towards Extinction?

by Mark Applegate

Landline telephones grew exponentially in the 1940s during and after World War 2. The local phone operator became the pop icon of the time. As technology changes and the expanded availability of cellular phones and high-speed Internet-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) continues, the potential that the landline telephone may eventually fade away like the 8-track tape player seems real. There are reasons, however, to doubt their eminent demise.

Cellular Usage

Cellular phones have saturated the American consumer electronics market. As of 2010 there are a staggering 6.4 billion cellphones in use worldwide. Smartphones have overtaken personal computers in sales and will pass standard cellphones during 2011. Constant innovation and faster Internet access drives many to buy new phones every year or two. Improved coverage areas have contributed as well.

VoIP Usage

According to Pew Research, 24 percent of American adults have placed a telephone call using the Internet. On a typical day, 5 percent of American adults use these services. This is being driven by several factors not the least of which is greatly increased high-speed Internet access. Rural areas, due to government initiatives to promote extending Internet access, offer a good opportunity to increase this VoIP growth as cellular service is often not as dependable there. With FCC regulation requiring VoIP to offer 911 access, the growth is sure to continue.

Other Contributors

Long distance calls are typically included in your cellular phone minutes, but, as of July, 2011, the cost of landline long distance calls increased nearly 2 percent in 2010. This is caused by government regulation and taxation, innovation and maintenance on communications networks. Another factor supporting the landline decline is cultural: popular American culture considers landline phones antiquated and awkward.

Potential Landline Saviors

Landlines phones are not gone yet. Many people retain service in case they lose power. An older, corded telephone will typically still work in a power outage provided that the switching stations have backup generators. The false perception that 911 calls are only available on landline phones also still exists, contributing to the landline's popularity. The cost of very basic service, or Lifeline service, as mandated by the FCC, is quite inexpensive at around $10-15 as of July, 2011. The overall cost of cellular and emerging technologies is still much higher than a landline provided that you find a good long distance calling plan. Credit availability and scores factor into being able to buy a cellular phone, and some, especially businesses, also appreciate their listing in a phone book for advertisements or so others can find their number.

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