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Will the landline phone become obsolete?


A Future Without the Landline?
These birds look pleased that phone companies still pay billions of dollars a year to maintain their networks, despite losing landline customers.
These birds look pleased that phone companies still pay billions of dollars a year to maintain their networks, despite losing landline customers.
Hayley Harrison/Photodisc/Getty Images

Even though landlines aren't off the radar yet, some people are already starting to feel the impact of their decline. As you might expect, major telephone providers are among those affected by abandoned landlines, but some other unexpected groups, like pollsters and politicians, are feeling the effects as well.

Don't feel too sorry for the telephone companies though. While major players like AT&T and Verizon get from one-third to one-half of their revenue from land-based subscribers, they won't necessarily lose those subscribers; they'll just convert them to wireless subscribers instead. So perhaps the companies are right not to be concerned about the drop-off in landlines, but the landscape is undoubtedly changing.

For instance, phone companies are starting to face competition from cable companies, like Time Warner and Comcast, who have lured customers away with their Internet-based communication offerings. Even as their landline subscribers decline, the phone companies still have to fork out billions of dollars a year to maintain the networks [source: Cauley].

As the phone companies puzzle over their future business model, pollsters are starting to wonder about their own ability to continue in a world without landlines. Polling organizations rely mainly on calls to landline numbers. Federal law prevents calls to cell phones by the computerized systems most often used by pollsters, so public opinion surveys could start to see skewed results. This is especially true since the remaining landline users tend to come from a particular demographic. They're more likely to be affluent, homeowners, over age 30 and white [source: Associated Press].

Politicians, too, have had to alter their game since many of their targeted constituents -- young voters -- are likely to only have a cell. With cell phones, whether you're dialing or receiving the call you have to pay for it, so this method of communication is off limits to campaigns. Political candidates have had to get creative in how they reach voters: pop-up ads, blogs written by the candidate and Internet commercials are some of the newer forms of outreach.

Although cell phones and VoIP are increasing in popularity, landlines will probably stick around until coverage and security improve. At least one good reason to use a landline is that emergency service providers often still have difficulty locating where cell phone calls originate. So while landlines linger on for now, don't rule out having to explain what a telephone pole was to your great-grandkids. For other interesting facts about landline telephones and the like, explore the links on the next page.