6 Reasons Cutting Your Landline Is a Bad Deal

by Carrie Kirby on 1 February 2013 16 comments
Photo: Willy D

It's a perennial item on save-money lists — cancel the landline and rely on cell phones for communications.

It's also a sacrifice that I will never make if I can help it, because the security and quality I get from my landline is more than worth the small monthly fee.

First, let's put the cost of a landline in perspective.

Our household spends approximately $25 per month on a plan with unlimited calling both domestically and to a number of foreign countries. More limited plans, such as several offered by AT&T without long-distance and with a per-call charge, are available for $18 a month or less, depending on your state. If you cancel your home phone service, you are saving the cost of taking a family of four out for fast food once a month. I know that every penny counts, but there are lots of other ways to save $15-$25 a month without sacrificing so much.

You may think that giving up a landline is worthwhile even though the savings are small, simply because you rarely pick up the phone to make a call. But even if you use your cell phone for most calls, that landline sitting there is providing you with value. (For a counterpoint, see: Seriously, Get Rid of Your Landline)

What do you lose when you give up a landline?

1. Better 911 Response

The main reason I will not give up my landline is that I have three children whose safety is worth more than $25 a month to me. When you call 911 from a landline, your home address appears on the dispatcher's screen; if you call from a cell phone, they will probably see geographical coordinates but not an exact address, according to Consumer Reports. If you have children in the house, ask yourself — if they need to call 911, will they be able to clearly tell a dispatcher their address under pressure? Do they know how to unlock and dial a cell phone? Even if you call yourself, what if you are incapacitated and can't speak? Are you willing to hope that the location information the dispatcher gets from your cell phone is good enough for emergency workers to find you?

You should also know that when you dial 911 from a cell phone, your call may not be answered by the dispatcher in charge of sending an ambulance or police to your address. In some locations, the call may need to be transferred, wasting valuable time in an emergency. I once called 911 from my cell phone because a woman had just fallen off a ladder in her yard as I walked past. When the dispatcher asked where I was, I could not see an address but told her I was "right across from the high school." "But what city are you in?" she asked. When I told her the name of the town, she transferred me to my local dispatcher, and I had to start over again.

2. Backup During Natural Disasters

I live just a few miles from the Hayward fault, called a "tectonic time bomb" by one seismologist. But as catastrophic weather events increase, even people who don't live in earthquake country are living in the shadow of a natural disaster. Even if you used your landline at no other time, wouldn’t it be worth a couple hundred dollars a year to keep an emergency back-up communication system in the house?

"We are very concerned by incidents where emergency wireless calls to 9-1-1 after yesterday's earthquake were hampered by network congestion," FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett told Fox News after the 2011 5.9 earthquake on the East Coast. Superstorm Sandy knocked down 25% of cell towers in the area, and even people who had cell coverage soon lost the ability to use their mobile phones due to power outages.

Sure, telephone service can be knocked out in natural disasters, too. But if you have both a cell phone and a landline, your odds are better that you'll be left with some connection to the rest of the world in a disaster.

Plus, landlines still work even if the power goes out — as long you have at least one handset with a cord that doesn't need to be charged.

3. Reliability and Quality

Recently I was waiting for an important call on my cell phone. The phone never rang, but later I found out that the caller had dialed my number and gotten no answer. Nothing showed up in my phone's "missed calls" list. This kind of thing has happened to me while using various carriers over the years. Other people find that they can't get a strong cell signal inside their own homes or find a call interrupted by a lost signal.

When interviewing sources over a cell phone, I often have to stop and ask them to repeat things to make sure I quote them correctly. The sound quality is nowhere near as good as a landline's.

Cellular phones' reliability and sound quality problems are a trade-off that we accept because of the huge convenience of being able to make and receive calls wherever we are. But when given the alternative of using a more reliable and better-quality connection at home, I'll take it!

4. Accessibility

Maybe you're one of those people who responsibly deposits their cell phone in a charging station as soon as you walk in the door. I'm not. Chances are, my cell phone is in my coat pocket inside a closet or in my purse in another room. And what this means is that it is not a form of communication that's easily accessible to me or to other members of the household. If a call comes in, I want everyone in the house to be able to hear it clearly. If I'm not free to answer, I want one of my children to be able to answer it without having to search my purse. For one thing, having the chance to receive and make phone calls gives them a chance to learn proper phone etiquette. For another, it's good training if they ever do have to use the phone in an emergency.

We keep one handset that is attached to the base with a good old-fashioned cord, so that it can't be lost and everyone in the family knows where to find it.

5. Radiation

"The World Health Organization has declared that cell phone radiation may be linked to brain cancer. Ten studies connect cell phone radiation to diminished sperm count and sperm damage. Others raise health concerns such as altered brain metabolism, sleep disturbance and behavioral changes in children," reads the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Safer Cell Phone Use. The guide also notes that "young children's brains can absorb twice as much cell phone radiation as those of adults."

I limit my chlidren's cell phone use, and one thing that helps us do that is having a landline they can use to talk to their grandparents and friends. I'd also just as soon avoid holding a radiation-emitting device to my own head for long conversations.

6. High-Speed Internet

We don't have cable, but my impression from practically everyone else I know is that dealing with cable companies is a nightmare. So another reason I appreciate my landline is that it allows me to get fast Internet service with DSL instead of a cable modem. In fact, we take advantage of a package deal that gives us both phone and Internet for a pretty reasonable price.

What About Other Alternatives to the Landline?

Of course, there are other alternatives to landlines besides cell phones. People are using Skype and FaceTime, as well as PC-based voice-over IP and work-arounds like Magic Jack. All of these are great ways to cut down your phone bill, but they don't provide a safe and reliable connection the way a landline does.

Keep Your Landline and Save

If you want to save money on your phone bill, instead of eliminating it, I recommend getting the most basic service just for emergencies, and using these other communication methods or your cell phone for most of your calls.

On the flip side, you may find that using a landline for most of your calls allows you to reduce your cell phone plan to a limited number of minutes, just enough to handle calls that can't wait until you get home. It's entirely possible that you can cut more money from your cell phone bill by reducing the number of minutes you use than you would save by eliminating home phone service.

You might find a work-around for any one of the disadvantages of not having a landline. But when you look at the landline's many benefits together, you may find that giving up this high quality and valuable service to save a small amount of money is no bargain at all.

Have you cut your landline service? Or did you decide to keep it for one of the reasons above (or for some other I haven’t mentioned)?

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Guest's picture
Jim Bob

Phone providers are beginning to change the way they deliver traditional phone service. Instead of the 'ol reliable copper pair, they are moving to a service not unlike how the cable providers delivery phone service. That's not to say it will unreliable, but it won't be as reliable as it once was.

Also, most DSL providers offer a "Dry" DSL service. That's DSL service without voice service. So you can get DSL and not have to pay for voice. If they offer it for free, sure. But I wouldn't chalk that up to an advantage.

Guest's picture
James H

I have to disagree with most of your assumptions with the stipulation that IF phone service is packaged with DSL it MAY be worth it. I am an Emergency Manager by profession and deal with these issues regularly related to 9-1-1. Yet, at my home with two small children we have no traditional landline service. Instead we use VOIP using an Obi box (~$50 for the box) that uses Google Voice for placing all calls (free). I then pay $1.99/mo for another pay-per-minute service from CallCentric that is there for nothing other than 9-1-1 calls. If 9-1-1 is dialed from any house phone it uses the CallCentric VOIP line and provides the same level of Enhanced 9-1-1 that would be present with a traditional landline. This is a major cost savings to us. It is worth noting that our IP service is through cable since we do need Cable TV and the internet service is only $5/mo more than what we would pay for just TV. We have found that DSL speed just doesn't cut it for us.

Camilla Cheung's picture

I'm extremely intrigued by your CallCentric service. We use Google Voice with an Obi box too (and have been happy with the voice quality and ease of use, especially calling to Canada) but I have to say the lack of 911 support worries me, especially with a 1-year-old in the house. I'll have to look into that!

Guest's picture
Guest Sam

We still have a landline. For the many reasons listed above & also because my state has a 25% tax on cell phones. I did break down & landline last year for job hunting reasons, ppl exspect ya to be available 24x7 now a days as a consumer. Many places that used to be open till 6 now close the phones at 4 or 5 - like the bank and Dr's offices. My dentist's receptionist leaves at 3 now... it's pretty much impossible to have a full time job & not have to make personal buisness calls during the day. & now that I think about it, i used to be able to call many places before 8 or 9 in the morning before leaving for work (like when my teenagers were babies). I can't think of any Dr's office that has their night recording turned off before 9am now, Lord forbid you need to reach the Dr in the morning.
I think cell phones have hurt human communication & the consumer. It's made life more stressful. & I have a serious time hearing certain ppl when they call me on their cell - don't know if it's their phone or the carrier. I also have trouble on my cell sometimes, there's a time & a place for everything and buisness calls I think are best handled in a quiet place that you ca nhear everythign & write it down as needed. I'll stop gripping now.... my landline is clear as day, we never loose our landline phones as easily since they are bigger & our 2 corded phones work fine when the power is out.

Guest's picture

Pretty interesting contrast to Thursday's article and I love these arguments because not too many people support the maintenance of landlines anymore.

Guest's picture
Shan

I moved 6 years ago and dropped my landline at that time and have never missed it. I think in a natural disaster I would be able to use a neighbor's landline to check in with a family member once every day or two.
I keep my cell phone with me in the house whether I am upstairs or downstairs and also at work and if I miss a call now and then it is not a big deal to me. My cell phone expense is already very low at $12 a month so I would not save anything there by adding a landline. The only middle of the night emergency call I have gotten was that my ex's house alarm was triggered and I was still on the list for the alarm company to notify. I would have rather not gotten that call!
My teenagers have cell phones and I have been known to text them from upstairs if I do not want to yell. :-) I have heard that the radiation concern is not as great lately because people are doing a lot more texting and not holding the phone to their heads. I take the kids cell phones away at 9pm every night so they are not texting at night or sleeping next to their phone.
With 911 calls, I had not heard that info before, and thought they would be able to retrieve my location from a cell phone. Interesting.

Guest's picture
Guest

The comment about landlines working in the event of a power outage is not always true. It depends on how you get your landline phone service. If it is over traditional copper, then yes, you are correct. However, if you get your phones service over cable, fiber to the premises (FiOS), or similar services it is not true. You will have a backup battery that will give you a little extra time, but once that battery is dead, you are without a phone anyway.

Guest's picture
Guest Pat

I will confirm that the information about calling 911 from a cell phone can give problems about location however it happened to me when dialing Poison Control.

My cell phone had a Central Florida area code and I was calling from the Pittsburgh, PA area - never dreaming that it would make a difference. When the person giving me instructions about taking my grandchild to the hospital & I asked which one, I realized that he wasn't in Pittsburgh but was in fact in Florida.

We got it sorted out (fortunately it wasn't as much of an emergency as I had been concerned about) & he told me that my phone's area code had directed the call to a Florida Poison Control Center.

That's pretty scary now as many people have their cell phones in a different area code from where they originated - not wanting to change phone numbers.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have both a cell phone and a land line. I prefer talking on my land line instead of my cell phone. It sounds much better and is clearer compared to every cell phone I have ever used. When we had a blackout several years ago, cells didn't work at all, only landline did. I have low bills for both my land line and my cell. I may eventually cut the landline but for now it is not hurting me to keep it.

Guest's picture
Rick

I could be mistaken - but if I recall correctly - once you convert a line to digital service - overlaying DSL on top of a POTS line for example, when the power goes out from a natural disaster - so will your DSL line.

What I believe you want is the "dry" POTS service (the analog version of the dry DSL mentioned below) - which is the same type used by alarm companies.

Guest's picture
Sam

Your right. When I went to change phone companies a few years ago they were going to give me some version of VoIP and an UPS to provide 20 min of phone service in the event of a power outage. We have at least 2 afternoons a year without power & while i appreciate that quiet spell, I want to be able to call 911 if my kids do something dim & need medical attention. My phone is over copper & it makes me feel better. You never know when there will be a power outage & if you remembered to charge up the cell right before it starts or of the battery will last until power is restored, also I don't want to have to worry about my phone service going out when power fluctuates comes back. We had a 4-5 hour outage last August that started while we were at work & the surge when the power came back fried the circuit board of our washing machine. I unplugged the entertainment center, cordless phone units, computers, everything i didn't want to have to worry about replacing since I've had surge protectors fry & pass the volts on to the devices - never thought of the circuitry inside my washer! Would hate to have the phone out until I replaced the UPS.

I do agree with one of the other posters - if you've never had a land line then you don't have the expectation that comes with it, just like any other service that some people find valuable while others go without. I want to be able to talk to relatives in other states for hours while I garden or cook, cell phones are easy to physically drop or ear pieces fall out during those activities and can get uncomfortable to finagle - not to mention the minutes can rack up if you don't have unlimited minutes. After my first kid, the phone became my main means of reaching out to ppl because you can't go out & hang out as much as you did kid free. Email & online chatting are great however, there is something there in the other layers of communication that you get via voice that just makes talking socially valuable.

Guest's picture

I can agree with your reasoning behind a landline, but I think it really depends on what your situation is. My wife and I have been married for just over a year and have never had a landline at our new house. I don't miss it one bit. On the other hand, my parents have always had one and my mom wouldn't be able to survive without one.

Guest's picture
Trish

I did away with my land line 4 years ago and I am so happy I did.

The 911 is no issue and the solution is simple. All cellphones even those that
no longer have service will dial 911 if charged. This is a law within the United States.
so if you have an old phone you do not use charge it up and keep it with you.

I used Skype and recently switched to Google Voice using an Obihai device (Amazon)
that was under $30. This means I can use the phone when my PC is off
and I can use a standard cordless phone now. It connects to your modem.
Google voice is awesome you get a free phone number and all incoming and outgoing calls with the U.S are free. Nothing to pay and you do not need to give your cc number. It took me only 15 minutes to set it all up and was user friendly.

I have calculated that in the past 4 years I have saved $2,500

I have called 911 and never had any issues with the above solution

I have never gone without phone service do to connection issues
longer than a few minutes and its extremely rare.

Guest's picture
Edward

Getting rid of my landline is one of the best things I ever did. None of my European friends had one and they very easily convinced me all the reasons for me having one were completely ridiculous. Bad things can happen, but hey--I don't own a diesel generator, 6 months of canned food supply, or a bomb shelter either. Considering the massive amount of money I've saved since ditching it, I think I'll take my chances if the apocalypse comes.

But you know what they say--fear is the greatest motivator and also the greatest argument against change.

Guest's picture
Stef

There was an article on here a few weeks back that said "Seriously, get rid of your landline." What's with the contradictory articles? Why not publish just one article with pros and cons?

Meg Favreau's picture

Hi Stef! Great question. Wise Bread is a collection of writers who all have their own opinions and areas of expertise in the personal finance sphere -- because, hey, not all advice is universal. So, instead of doing one piece, we had two writers state their opinions on the subject.