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Landline phone, R.I.P.?

The landline telephone is on its way out.

This week the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced tests of new technology to replace the nation's copper-wire-based landline phone system.

Copper-wire-based phone systems on are their way out.  They are, says, Howard Anderson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, “D-E-A-D.”  His prediction for their future is a grim one (except maybe for copper miners), “the finest copper mine in the world lies under our streets and we are going to be pulling it up and selling it.”

And he’s not the only telecom fortune teller who’s predicting doom. “It’s really already dead-model-walking,” says Scott Cleland, president of Precursor LLC.  He says fewer than 30 percent of people in the U.S. still use landlines that run over copper wires, and that number is falling. 

Copper landlines and the regulations that go with them are expensive for the phone companies. They want to get rid of them. Internet based replacements are cheaper.  “There won’t be people that are capable to fix it,” says Cleland, “and there won’t be the switches to replace if things go bad, it’s just going to die on its own.” His best guess for copper’s last gasp—the end of the decade.

Now, he says, we’re just waiting on the F.C.C. to write the death certificate and come up with rules for the new system. But, what the F.C.C. includes is going to help answer what—if anything—we might mourn in a post-copper landline world. “For 100 years we have had a social compact with the network,” says Harold Feld, senior vice president ofthe consumer group Public Knowledge. "We have required universal service access and reliability.”

If that social compact goes away, Feld says, there will be a whole lot to miss about the telephone system of the past.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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While I agree with the overall theme of the story that traditional landline phones are being ditched left and right a few additional comments:
Before all that copper gets dug up - How does Internet actually come to our house?
Many internet connections use that exact same copper line for ADSL and VDSL internet service. Constant innovation helps to squeeze out more bandwidth from these cables already in the ground. Bonding of lines and vectoring ensures it will remain a viable access technology for much longer.
DSL will continue to coexist with Cable, Fiber and Wireless (LTE, etc) access technologies. Many big name OEMs and Telcos are still heavily investing in DSL. And dependent on where you live, DSL may actually be the only availabe access technology.

So please let's keep some of that copper in the groud a bit longer, at least for another 25 years or so.

The statement that only 30% of people still use landlines is misleading. Cell phone use has exploded to the point where every household with teenagers has at least 4 cell phones, but most of those households still have a landline too. Even 10 years ago, most teenagers did not have a cell phone so the percentage of landlines was much higher. So, although the percentage of phones that are landlines is dropping, I suspect the total number of landlines is still quite high and that the phone companies are still making a fine profit on them.

If "we" are going to be pulling those lines up, "we" had better get a move on. The crackheads have already done about half the job.

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