Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ch-ch-changes -- Landlines bite the dust

More unintended consequences. After Hurricane Sandy, Verizon complained that they really did not want to re-install the copper telephone lines that the storm had destroyed along the New York - New Jersey shore.  For one in four US households, that would not be a problem, according to U.S. Telecom, a trade group that is watching trends in this area.  More households are simply relying on their cell phones and dropping the landline entirely.  However, in rural areas where cell connection is poor, and for people who have medical devices that use telephone connections to "report in,"  landlines are still crucial, according to an AP report.

As with so many technology switch-overs that librarians deal with, this is one more where there is an awkward period between the old and new.  Some folks still rely on the old technology and it's becoming increasingly costly to maintain the old.  In the wake of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed miles of cable, it would cost a very great deal to lay new wiring, which would only be used by a few customers.  Probably even they would only use the landlines for a few years. 

New York state regulators have given Verizon permission to substitute wireless service for landlines in these area.  The result is that folks with pacemakers, shopkeepers and restaurants that need to verify creditcards, fax machines fail.  In June, the New York attorney general filed an emergency petition to halt the switchover in the Catskill Mountains area.  In New Jersey, the state regulators are still considering Verizon's petition. 

In Washington, D.C., the FCC is considering a similar petition from AT&T to switch customers from landlines to wireless. AT&T is not dealing with storm damage, but is looking at long term economics. They want to select trial areas and see how things go.  This seems better to plan and test the market rather than respond to emergency conditions, at least.

The image of an antique, crank telephone is courtesy of the film liaison of Escambia County, Florida. The caption for the photo notes it is a 1901 telephone that is mounted on a kitchen wall and is still in operation.

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