We decide to drop all of our “regular” telephone lines except one.
This past week, after much nagging from me, we finally agreed to get rid of most of our telephone land lines. There just doesn’t seem to be a need for them.
But it wasn’t always like that.
Our History with Telephone Lines
There was a time when there were six telephone lines coming into our house.
it was right after we moved here. Both Mike and I had offices in the house. He had an office number (1011) and so did I (1233). We shared a fax (3965), which he mostly used for his work. And I needed high-speed, reliable Internet with a fixed IP address. Ten years ago, that meant ISDN, which required two telephone lines (with Phoenix phone numbers to save money).
Are you counting? That’s five so far.
And, of course, we needed a “house” phone number (3537) to make and receive non-work calls.
When we bought our house, it wasn’t wired for six phone lines. (Do you know any house that is?) It was wired for two. And because the phone lines (and electricity, for that matter) run underground in a conduit from a telephone pole at the edge of our property, the phone company couldn’t simply run four more lines with them.
Instead, they sent a crew of Mexican workers with shovels and a ditch digging machine. These guys worked out in the hot sun and dug a trench from the telephone pole across my neighbor’s driveway (on our property; long story), across the wash, and up alongside our driveway. When they got to the top of our driveway, they used a concrete cutter to put a thin slot in the concrete between their trench to the telephone box on the side of our house.
Then they ran the wire — a six-pair — through the trench and connected it at either end. Because running the wires inside the walls to my office on the other side of the house was impossible, they ran the wires over the roof of the garage, down the corner of the house, and through a hole they drilled in my outer wall. If I remember right, they did the same for Mike’s office in the other spare bedroom.
They connected it all up and we had service.
The work crew buried the wires.
The wires didn’t stay buried. The first time they were unearthed and cut was when my neighbor was playing with a backhoe in the wash. He’d rented the thing to do some work around his property — we don’t just use shovels around here — and he was smoothing out an area in the wash for his wife to ride her horses when he cut through the wire. He didn’t even notice. The only way we noticed was when we were trying to use the phone. I distinctly remember going into Mike’s office, which faces the road to our homes, and asking him if his phone was dead. We both looked up to see Danny driving that backhoe up the road to return it to the rental place.
We didn’t call the phone company for that repair. We were worried that either we or Danny would have to pay for it. So we got some wire and some soldering stuff, and some shrink wrap wire stuff and did it ourselves. Twelve wires needing a patch between them equals 24 separate solders.
It took a long time.
The second time, Mike did it with a backhoe. You’d think he would have remembered the first time.
Another time, a flood in the wash took out the wires. That time, we called the phone company to complain that they hadn’t buried them deep enough. They sent another Mexican work crew to replace the wires.
Meanwhile, Mike and I moved our offices out of the house. I own a condo in town and got seriously tired of tenants trashing the place. So I moved us into it. The ISDN and our three office lines (two voice, one fax) went with us.
That left one phone line at home.
It didn’t take long before we realized that we needed a fax line at home. So we added one (2015) — heck, we already had all the wires in place.
Last year, we moved our offices back into the house. By that time, I’d replaced the ISDN with 5-6 Mbps DSL at my office and wireless “cable” at home. No DSL or even regular cable at home, so I’m stuck with 512 Kbps wireless cable. (It could be worse; I could have dial-up.) So that was two less phone lines. Mike was doing less and less work with his office phone — in fact, he’d forwarded that number to his cell phone — and I talked him into dropping that number. We also dropped the home fax number.
So when we moved the offices back to the house, we had only three phone numbers: the house (3537), my office (1233), and the office fax (3965).
And that’s where things stand now.
But Why Have Land Lines at All?
I got my first cell phone in 2001. Back in those days, I never expected my cell phone to take the place of a land line. Cell phones rates were too costly. Roaming charges were outrageous. But over time, I got the right plan to make it a bit more affordable. And with the purchase of my Treo last summer, I realized that a cell phone can be far more than a tool to make phone calls. It connects me to the Internet when I’m off-the-grid. It collects messages, it enables me to send voice or text messages to other cell phone users. And since it’s a “smart phone,” it’s also a mini computer, holding information about my contacts, calendar events, and more.
I find that I’m using it more and more as my primary verbal communication tool. In fact, more often than not, my office phone line is forwarded to my cell phone so I don’t miss any calls while I’m out and about.
Last year, I began putting only my cell phone number on printed advertising materials for Flying M Air. I was starting to think about getting rid of my office line.
Meanwhile, about six months ago, I started noticing that incoming calls from Mike’s family were going to his cell phone. His family simply didn’t call the house very much at all. And my family tended to call my office line. It got to the point where 90% of the phone calls coming to 3537 were telemarketers — despite our inclusion on various no-call lists.
I started thinking about the cost-benefit of having a house phone number. Cost is $30 to $50 per month, depending on how many long distance calls we make. Since our cell phones don’t charge by the minute until we reach our quotas and off peak/weekend calls and calls to other Verizon customers are free, we make most of our long-distance calls from our cell phones.
Benefit was tough to figure out. Sure, it was a “local” number for our friends and local businesses, but most of our local friends used cell phones. Since Verizon works so good around here, they’re all on Verizon, no matter where their number is based. Besides, my cell phone number was local. (Mike’s is a Phoenix number.)
But the number and type of calls we get on that line tells the true story: 90% telemarketers. And the phone can go for days without ringing.
The Decision Finally Made
Unfortunately, all this logic was still a hard sell to Mike. It had been hard to get him to turn off his office number, too.
So I began asking other people what they thought whenever I was with Mike. Friday was the turning point. We were in Macy’s, ordering a chair with the furniture sales lady. She asked for phone numbers and we rattled off a bunch of them for her. Then I said, “We have too many phone numbers. I’m thinking we should get rid of our land lines.”
“I did it a year ago,” she said. “Best thing I ever did. The only calls I got on my land line were from telemarketers.”
This was coming from a woman roughly our age — not some trendy kid bouncing through the early stages of life. Someone who lived in the same place for a long time and grew up with land lines, like we did.
Later, at dinner, the phone rang and Mike got up to answer it. It was a telemarketer.
A while later, as we sat watching a movie on television, the phone rang and Mike got up to answer it. It was a telemarketer.
I told Mike I wasn’t going to answer that phone anymore. It was always telemarketers.
Later, I came up with a plan and talked Mike into it. We’d use a two-step process to get rid of two of our three land lines.
First, we’d remove the house line (3537). We’d wire the fax line (3965) to the phone jacks where the house phone currently is but turn off the phones’ ringers and the kitchen phone’s answering machine. Result: we’d have a handy local phone number throughout the house to make outgoing calls. But the fax machine would still receive faxes, since none of the handsets would ring or answer. The phone company would play a recording on 3537 saying the number has been changed to my cell phone number.
Meanwhile, I’d continue to remove my land line from advertising materials, Web sites, business cards, etc. I’d also start informing people of the upcoming change. Then, in phase two of our land line removal project, I’d turn off my office phone number (1233). This would probably happen in September 2008. We’d wire the fax line to my office handset so I had a handy land line to make outgoing calls. (Actually, it’s already wired to my handset as line 2 and to my computer for outgoing faxes.) The phone company would play a recording on 1233 saying the number has been changed to my cell phone number.
That would bring us down to just one land line, which we’d use for incoming faxes and outgoing voice calls and faxes.
I estimate that this will save us an average of $70 per month. That’s $840 per year. I can use that savings to increase the number of minutes on my cell phone calling plan (if I need to) or spring for faster Internet service. Or just save it.
The Death of Land Line Business?
I heard a story on NPR recently that a big phone company — my brain is telling me it’s AT&T but I can’t confirm that — is getting out of the long distance land line business. They’re losing customers and want to concentrate on wireless services.
So the idea of dropping land lines isn’t anything new. It’s just a bit new to us.
It’s ironic that the overuse of land lines by a phone company’s biggest customers — telemarketers — is a big part of what’s driving other customers away from land lines. While my cell phone isn’t completely free of telemarketing calls — after all, the phone number is listed in so many places, including the Yellow pages — I get far fewer. And since I’m usually wearing the phone, it isn’t a big bother to answer it. And it’s just as easy to hang up.
Although I don’t think land lines will completely disappear any time soon, as a generation of telephone users grows up with cell phones, I’m willing to bet that most of them won’t see any point in getting a telephone line in their dorm rooms, apartments, or homes.
Frankly, if we didn’t need a reliable way to receive faxes, we wouldn’t have any land lines either.
What Do You Think?
Do you still have a land line? Why?
Or have you also gone completely wireless for telephone communications?
Share your thoughts with me and other readers. Use the Comments link or form for this post.