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June 8, 2016

Is it Time to Hang Up on Traditional Landlines?

We all have them laying around the house somewhere. Perhaps yours is collecting dust on a living room table, or maybe it’s hanging on a kitchen wall waiting for the next telemarketer to call. But are landline telephones really necessary anymore?

While traditional landline phones are fun for nostalgia-sake, like a Slinky or Walkman, it’s time for our nation to embrace new technology and transition to a 21st-century telecommunications network.
 
The old copper wires and switching stations used to route landline calls are expensive to maintain, and phone companies should be using this money to invest in new broadband technology.
 
Unfortunately, outdated laws are preventing phone companies like AT&T from doing so. For example, AT&T is required by California state law to maintain and operate its 600 central switching offices as if the lines were being used at 100-percent capacity.
 
However, many of those switching offices are running at just two percent, wasting massive amounts of energy and water to cool equipment and human resources to run them. Even more, AT&T reports that 85 percent of households in California no longer have a conventional landline phone from a traditional provider.
 
This means money that could be used for new technology investments is forced to be spent on an arcane technology that is only used by 15 percent of the population.
 
That’s why AT&T and other telephone companies are increasingly supporting legislation like AB 2395 – a bill in California’s Assembly that would let phone companies discontinue traditional landline service starting in 2020.
 
Passage of the bill wouldn’t completely cut off current landline customers, but rather transition them from wireline services to Internet-based voice services. 
 
Under the bill, phone companies would have three years to educate the public about alternative phone services, then would be able to discontinue landline service as long as an alternative service is available in the area.
 
Transitioning away from landline phones would be a major step forward in providing our nation with the modern communication system that it needs and deserves.
 
However, there are critical public safety concerns that must be addressed in the process.
 
Although landlines phones are old and clunky, they’re currently a valuable form of communication during times of crisis. A landline telephone can operate up to two weeks without electricity, and in a state like California where natural disasters – from floods to fires to earthquakes – are part of everyday life, phone companies must develop services that are even more reliable than traditional landlines and educate the public that they work properly during emergencies.
 
The only way to hang up on old school landlines is to ensure that our future phone services can operate at times when electricity and Internet connectivity are not available. In order to achieve this, we must get rid of burdensome regulations and allow companies to invest in new technology rather than maintaining outdated technology.
 
Today’s communications regulations are akin to if the U.S. Department of Transportation required all dirt roads to remain unpaved because it was easier on horse’s hooves then asphalt. We need to adjust our laws to promote the technology of tomorrow rather than saddle companies with the regulations of yesterday.  
 
On the other hand, the question phone companies must be able to answer is: can new school technology stand the age-old test of natural and man-made disaster?
 
If these public safety concerns can be addressed effectively, we’ll be able to modernize our IT infrastructure and free up capital to invest in broadband technology that is faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than traditional landlines.
 
That way, the next time you see a landline phone hopefully it will be at a museum.

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