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Elderly still renting telephones

Some land-line customers -- many of them seniors -- are paying hundreds of dollars a year to lease home phones.

By Giselle Smith May 1, 2012 6:05PM
Image: Phone (© Corbis)If your elderly relatives are still using a land line, maybe you should make sure they're not also paying a monthly fee to rent the telephone itself.

That was the surprise discovery Arizona resident Martha Rettalick made when she visited her parents in Philadelphia recently, CBS Philly reports. 


Rettalick told CBS Philly that she came across a monthly bill for $21.09 from QLT Consumer Lease Services, which she learned was for three land-line telephones that her parents had acquired in the 1980s, when customers rented phones as part of their basic service. "Add that up over the course of a year, that's over $250 for leasing a telephone," she said, estimating that her parents have paid more than $6,000 for those phones since the mid-1980s.


When she figured out that her parents didn't have one of the QLT-owned phones, which would need to be returned, she contacted CBS Philly's 3 On Your Side. Consumer reporter Jim Donovan helped her cancel her parents' lease without paying an extra fee.


Who needs a land line?

For those raised in the age of ubiquitous cellphones, the idea of even having a land line may seem antiquated, but most American homes -- especially those in rural areas -- still have telephones that connect to the wall. About 32% of American homes had only cellphones in the first half of 2011, according to a National Health Interview Survey (.pdf file).


And though the percentage of homes with land lines is steadily dropping -- 70.3% of homes had land lines in the second half of 2010, according to the survey -- rural areas still depend heavily on wired phone service. (Post continues below.)

But even most people who have a land line couldn't imagine not owning their own phones.


"Some folks never got around to buying their own personal telephone at any local store and are still just going ahead and paying that monthly rental along in their phone bill," elder advocate Karen Chenoweth told CBS Philly. "There's no incentive for the company to say, 'Hey, by the way, you could buy an equal or better product at your local store instead of paying me a monthly bill.'"


The cost of a land-based telephone can vary widely, especially if you want multiple phone lines or cordless handsets. When my land-line telephone started giving me problems recently, I mentioned it to my parents over lunch. We checked the shelves at a local secondhand store that day and rejected a $10 desktop phone as too expensive, but my father later found one at another thrift shop for about $2. Target sells a black, no-frills AT&T Trimline corded phone for $10.49.

QLT told CBS Philly that the company has more than 300,000 customers who rent telephones and that QLT provides a number of services including "unconditional replacement of their products for any reason."


Chenoweth, a supervisor with the nonprofit Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, suggests that friends and family members of the elderly should sit down with them and review their bills to make sure they understand what they are paying for and how much it is costing them.


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