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Cutting the cord on a land line phone

More people than ever are dropping their land line service and going wireless exclusively. But before you throw out your old phone, make sure the move is right for your budget.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 30, 2013 1:09PM

This post comes from Michelle V. Rafter of MSN Money.


Image: Pink phone (© Fuse/Getty Images)When the Wright family gave up their land line two years ago after a move from Oregon City to the neighboring town of Estacada, Ore., they never missed a beat.


“We decided we didn’t use the land line enough to make it worth the money,” says Kerry Wright, 38.


Over the past decade, the number of U.S. families like the Wrights -- which also includes Kerry's husband, Scott, and their 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son -- who have cut the cord on land line service and gone wireless-only has tripled.


The trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, thanks in part to the lure of smartphones. Technology analyst IDC says that last year, 712.6 million smartphones were sold worldwide, up 44.1% from 2011.


With cell service covering more of the country, it’s become a more viable replacement for land line service. As of June 2012, the country was blanketed by 285,561 cell sites, a 36% increase from 2007, according to CTIA, a wireless industry group. It’s also a matter of convenience. Why have two phone numbers and two phone bills when one will do?


Another reason is cost. Wireless phone companies heavily promote group plans with unlimited minute,s so when Mom or Dad sign up it’s relatively cheap to add the kids -- and even Grandma and Grandpa.


U.S. households with no land line service but at least one wireless telephone jumped to 35.8% by June 2012, compared with 34% at the end of 2011, and only 10.5% five years earlier, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.


By 2016, the number of wireless-only households could climb to 50.8 million, or 42.8% of all U.S. residents with telephone service, according to IDC, the technology researcher.


Whether or not a family’s gone wireless only at home depends a lot on where they live, according to the NCHS (.pdf file), which bases its findings on a twice-yearly government health study. In Idaho, for example, 44.6% of adults use only cellphones, compared with 15.3% of adults living in Rhode Island, according to the survey.


Ditching the land line

When the Wrights ditched their land line, they added a cellphone, bringing the number of mobile devices on their monthly plan to three. It was still cheaper. After paying for an extra cellphone for the family, they save about $200 to $300 per year, they say. 

Generation Y doesn’t know anything else. The last time Senia Wadford, 22, used a land line, she was 16 and living with her parents. Today, the Spring Lake, N.C., woman and her husband, both Army medics, use their cellphones wherever they are, including at home.


Land lines “might be useful for families or mothers at home,” Wadford says, “but not for us with our fast-paced tempo, and the fact that we have to turn our phones off for every deployment.”


Even if you don’t go wireless, an Internet connection and Skype or Google Voice can serve as a cheap replacement for a land line.


Betsy Richter, 50, of Portland, Ore., gave up her land line two years ago and signed up for a Google Voice number instead. The Web-based service is available to Gmail users or as an iPhone or Android app, and it provides free PC-to-phone calls inside North America, which Richter figures saves her about $30 a month. “I'm not a phone person by nature, plus both kids have their own cell numbers, as do I, so keeping a land line had little appeal,” Richter says. “Google Voice has worked well for me.”


Despite smartphones’ popularity, there are some downsides of going wireless exclusively. 911 emergency services haven’t been as reliable as they are on land line connections, though wireless carriers are working to improve that. According to CTIA, the wireless trade group, wireless 911 calls have risen to more than 400,000 a day.


Not all cell service is cheaper, either, which is why some people who give up land lines go back to using a combination of land line and wireless service.


Lynn Harris’ family got rid of their land line more than three years ago, but reinstated a no-frills phone line after her husband quit working to return to school for a master’s degree in counseling.


With the Oregon City woman supporting the family with two part-times jobs, money is tight. Harris pays $30 for a basic phone line plus $16 a month for a TracPhone prepaid cellphone. The cost is about half the family’s previous monthly cell service bill. “More often than not, I end up leaving my cell in my purse and only answering the land line on the weekends,” she says.


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Jan 30, 2013 9:45PM
If you have a standard wireless service, there is no reason anymore for a land line.  Even ADT and DirecTV no longer require a landline.  As a matter of fact, a wireless ADT system is more secure since cutting the phone line -- or even power to the house -- does a burglar no good, unless he wants to wait 48 hours before a break in.
Jan 30, 2013 9:03PM

Dropping your landline is one alternative.  But if you still want a landline (sort of) and have high speed internet, consider Ooma.  You can buy the device for about $100, porting your old number costs $40 if you want and the monthly charge is less than $5.   Free unlimited calling in US, call waiting, caller id, etc all included.  Absolutely could not be happier.


I switched in December, ported my number and everything went smooth as could be. Voice clarity, etc is crystal clear with no problems.  Costco sells the Ooma too.  My advise (what I did), was buy the device, activate it (you will get a new number of your choice in whatever area code you want) and use it for a week or two to make sure it works out good.  Then if satisfied, port your old phone number if you want.  Very easy to set up.  Basically go online and give the device id, plug in and let the device hook up automatically.   Even a  dummy can do it.

Jan 30, 2013 8:39PM

When a big storm comes along, what will go out is the cell phone. Land lines carry 90%+ of the calls.

They have the networks, just like a car needing a highway.

Cell phone companies couldn't operate without the real phone networks.

I'll always keep my land line.

Jan 30, 2013 8:35PM
Four years ago when we cut our land line we removed all the jacks in the house and even cut the line going to the main trunk when we poured our patio slab. That's about as final as it gets.
Jan 30, 2013 7:25PM
I'm GLADLY rid of my land line.  I don't know why I held onto it for so long.  I was paying something like $60.00 a month to get NOTHING BUT incoming calls from political campaigns, wrong numbers, telemarketers and debt collectors looking for someone who had my phone number 20 years ago.  I never made any outbound calls and realized I was paying $60.00 a month to be harassed.  Do yourself a favor and lose the land line.
Jan 30, 2013 7:01PM
Jan 30, 2013 6:52PM
I dislike cell phones and the idea of having to talk and text hours on end for no reason. The phone should be for the home  and business.
Jan 30, 2013 6:37PM
I got the Magic Jack Plus and ported my phone # over for a small fee. It works great and I pay very little for unlimited calls, get emailed my messages and have call waiting and all the features I would have had to pay through the nose for. I have just an internet connection and stream movies and sports to my flat panel for free, no need for cable or satellite TV with today's technology.
Jan 30, 2013 5:52PM
I still have my old Verizon Landline with a Princess Touchtone phone due to the fact that I don't get a clear cell signal where I live.  I have to drive about a mile or so to receive a clear cell signal.  On the bright side, when we lost power here from Superstorm Sandy for 16 days I was the only one on my block who had telephone service for the first 5 days until they restored the cell towers.  I also have an Internet Voip phone but that doesn't work when you lose power either.  So I think I'll keep my landline a bit longer for only $23.00 a month.
Jan 30, 2013 5:50PM

Went with Ooma VOIP.  It's only about $3.50 a month for the taxes/911 service fee.  You just have to buy the unit itself which is about $150.00 and plug it into your home telephone wiring.  Done.  All of the landline phones in your house operate off of it, and the voice quality is outstanding (assuming you have decent internet service).

Jan 30, 2013 5:49PM
I have a Magic Jack  Unlimited local and long distance for $29.99 a YEAR!!! Phone is only used for messages from doctor's offices, etc.
Jan 30, 2013 5:43PM
We have cut our land line before and it wasn't a problem.  However, once we had small children we got a land line, but bare bones - no caller ID, no call waiting, minimal service.  The only reason is if in case of an emergency, we want to have that line available.  Also, when we have babysitters, we want to be sure they have a way to get in touch with us parents as needed.  So we still have one, although it's rarely used and rarely ever rings only for emergency situations.
Jan 30, 2013 4:50PM
I haven't had a land line for many years now. 30+ bucks a month more in my pocket and not having to delete 10-15 telemarketer calls every day I sure don't miss.
Jan 30, 2013 4:31PM
Getting ready to ditch our landline.  no reason to keep it - no kids at home and they always call our cell anyways.  might cut down on the cold calls....
Jan 30, 2013 4:17PM
I would have loved to keep my land line. BUT verizon sent me notice that they were raising the rates to compensate for the increase in service and reliability they were getting ready to implement. Hell, it's a frickin' land line, hard-wire connected to wherever you call. How much more can you improve on a dying technology??? Just another scam to get more money. I dropped it. They are still screwing me on the cell bill. But then that is what all of them are doing.
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