Don’t cut that cord yet: Why we still need landlines

The Illinois Telecommunications Act—important legislation that protects your rights and keeps telephone rates low—is up for review in 2015.  We are gearing up for a big legislative battle as we expect companies like AT&T and Frontier to attempt to completely deregulate local phone service.

If Big Telecom has its way, companies would be free from the legal “obligation to serve” all Illinois customers and allowed to completely abandon local landline service.  This fits right into AT&T’s plans to push customers onto its digital voice plans–which, not-so-incidentally are vastly unregulated compared to traditional telephone service.

Some people will say, “So what?”  Aren’t landlines going the way of the dinosaurs anyway?

Don’t cut the cord so fast.

Eliminating service would target more than a million Illinois landlines—most of them AT&T and Frontier customers.  Here’s how customers would be affected:

1.) Affordability 

  • Digital voice packages (which run through your home’s broadband Internet connection) and cellphone plans are often more expensive than traditional home phone service.  For example, AT&T’s digital U-verse costs $25-$35 per month, with mandatory Internet service and high installation fees. Comcast Xfinity plans range from $49.99 and up, plus the accompanying costs to rent a modem.
  • Now, compare that to AT&T’s Consumer Choice Plans.  These legally-mandated plans (that CUB helped negotiate!) provide no-frills service for customers for as low as $3-$20 per month.  The plans have saved Illinoisans an estimated $10 million since they were introduced.  If AT&T succeeds in the spring, these plans could be goners.

2.) Reliability and Security

  • Traditional home phone service is more reliable than VoIP or cellphone service.  One of the big problems with VoIP is that the service depends on an electrical connection.  If there’s a power outage, you’re depending on a backup battery.  Landlines, on the other hand, transmit voice and data signals by copper wire, which functions even during power outages.
  • Landlines also provide lifelines to key services such as 911, home security systems, over-the-phone banking transactions, and pacemaker or defibrillator monitoring.

3.) Availability 

  • Critics of traditional home phones say that most people just use cellphones these days.  While this service may function reliably in big cities, digital phone and cellphone reception in many areas of Illinois can be spotty or non-existent.  And if telecom companies convince state legislators to drop the “obligation to serve” requirement for phone service, they will be under no obligation to provide service for any area–especially low-population, rural areas deemed unprofitable.

When it comes down to it, eliminating traditional home telephone service affects Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens– senior citizens, people on fixed incomes, families with small children and rural customers—who depend on an affordable and reliable home phone to stay connected to friends, family, and essential services.  CUB will be fighting in the spring to protect essential traditional telephone service, and we hope you join us.

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