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Paul Merrell

Prepare to Hang Up the Phone, Forever - WSJ.com - 0 views

  • At decade's end, the trusty landline telephone could be nothing more than a memory. Telecom giants AT&T T +0.31% AT&T Inc. U.S.: NYSE $35.07 +0.11 +0.31% March 28, 2014 4:00 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 24.66M AFTER HOURS $35.03 -0.04 -0.11% March 28, 2014 7:31 pm Volume (Delayed 15m): 85,446 P/E Ratio 10.28 Market Cap $182.60 Billion Dividend Yield 5.25% Rev. per Employee $529,844 03/29/14 Prepare to Hang Up the Phone, ... 03/21/14 AT&T Criticizes Netflix's 'Arr... 03/21/14 Samsung's Galaxy S5 Smartphone... More quote details and news » T in Your Value Your Change Short position and Verizon Communications VZ -0.57% Verizon Communications Inc. U.S.: NYSE $47.42 -0.27 -0.57% March 28, 2014 4:01 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 24.13M AFTER HOURS $47.47 +0.05 +0.11% March 28, 2014 7:59 pm Volume (Delayed 15m): 1.57M
  • 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. You may think you have a traditional landline because your home phone plugs into a jack, but if you have bundled your phone with Internet and cable services, you're making calls over an IP network, not twisted copper wires. California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio are among states that agree telecom resources would be better redirected into modern telephone technologies and innovations, and will kill copper-based technologies in the next three years or so. Kentucky and Colorado are weighing similar laws, which force people to go wireless whether they want to or not. In Mantoloking, N.J., Verizon wants to replace the landline system, which Hurricane Sandy wiped out, with its wireless Voice Link. That would make it the first entire town to go landline-less, a move that isn't sitting well with all residents.
  • New Jersey's legislature, worried about losing data applications such as credit-card processing and alarm systems that wireless systems can't handle, wants a one-year moratorium to block that switch. It will vote on the measure this month. (Verizon tried a similar change in Fire Island, N.Y., when its copper lines were destroyed, but public opposition persuaded Verizon to install fiber-optic cable.) It's no surprise that landlines are unfashionable, considering many of us already have or are preparing to ditch them. More than 38% of adults and 45.5% of children live in households without a landline telephone, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means two in every five U.S. homes, or 39%, are wireless, up from 26.6% three years ago. Moreover, a scant 8.5% of households relied only on a landline, while 2% were phoneless in 2013. Metropolitan residents have few worries about the end of landlines. High-speed wire and wireless services are abundant and work well, despite occasional dropped calls. Those living in rural areas, where cell towers are few and 4G capability limited, face different issues.
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  • Safety is one of them. Call 911 from a landline and the emergency operator pinpoints your exact address, down to the apartment number. Wireless phones lack those specifics, and even with GPS navigation aren't as precise. Matters are worse in rural and even suburban areas that signals don't reach, sometimes because they're blocked by buildings or the landscape. That's of concern to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees all forms of U.S. communications services. Universal access is a tenet of its mission, and, despite the state-by-state degradation of the mandate, it's unwilling to let telecom companies simply drop geographically undesirable customers. Telecom firms need FCC approval to ax services completely, and can't do so unless there is a viable competitor to pick up the slack. Last year AT&T asked to turn off its legacy network, which could create gaps in universal coverage and will force people off the grid to get a wireless provider.
  • AT&T and the FCC will soon begin trials to explore life without copper-wired landlines. Consumers will voluntarily test IP-connected networks and their impact on towns like Carbon Hills, Ala., population 2,071. They want to know how households will reach 911, how small businesses will connect to customers, how people with medical-monitoring devices or home alarms know they will always be connected to a reliable network, and what the costs are. "We cannot be a nation of opportunity without networks of opportunity," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in unveiling the plan. "This pilot program will help us learn how fiber might be deployed where it is not now deployed…and how new forms of wireless can reach deep into the interior of rural America."
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