Millions of people are cutting the cords of landline phone service and have switched to cellular or VoIP (internet calling) services. You might think, “That’s nice, but I like my wired landline phone. I plan to keep it forever.”
I bet you will change your mind before long. You may not change it today, but I suspect you will change within a very few years. When you do, you probably will find you then have more privacy and lower expenses than you do today.
Rather than paying the higher prices for the next several years, I might suggest you might evaluate your options TODAY to see if it makes sense for you to switch now.
Fifty-two percent of U.S. adults lived in households served only by cell phones as of June, 2017. Among adults 25-34 years old, almost 75% were living in wireless-only households. Annual National Center for Health Statistics studies show the wireless-only trend has accelerated since 2007. But that’s only part of the story. I can’t even estimate the number of cable customers who have given up their traditional landlines in favor of VoIP (internet calling) service.
Comment: A few households undoubtedly still have their old-fashioned POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) wired phones as well as a cell phone or perhaps multiple cell phones, used by various family members. This is an unnecessary expense, as proven by the fifty-two percent of U.S. adults living in households served only by cell phones. Why pay for two phones?
A few people I have talked with claim they maintain two or more phones because “cell phones aren’t reliable where I live.” That reason was true once but no longer is an issue for most home users. In fact, anyone who has a broadband internet connection at home can have very reliable cell phone service.
Services from Google Fi, Republic Wireless, or (to some extent) from T-Mobile will provide high-quality, highly reliable cellular service while in or near home. See my earlier articles at https://privacyblog.com/2016/08/25/follow-up-what-is-wi-fi-calling-and-why-would-i-want-it/ and https://privacyblog.com/2018/11/13/what-is-google-project-fi-and-is-it-worth-it/ for the details. Switching to one of the dual mode phones will probably save you money. In many cases, they will save a LOT of money.
As millions continue to “cut the cord” of their POTS service, the telephone companies bear the expense of providing wired phones to an ever-diminishing number of customers. The telephone companies are very aware of the fixed costs of maintaining telephone poles, especially as wires and poles get damaged or destroyed by various causes (hurricanes, ice storms, floods, falling limbs, automobiles leaving the road, and more) . The repair costs are more or less the same whether the phone company has a handful of customers or millions of customers.
There are serious costs associated with maintaining the wires and installing and maintaining in-home telephones. The telephone companies’ potential profit-per-customer is already decreasing rapidly worldwide as customers move to cell phones and VoIP (internet calling) phones.
In addition, an unknown number of households have canceled their old wired landline service and switched to VoIP (internet calling) services, such as Vonage, Ooma, MagicJack, and even the “triple play” offerings available from most cable companies: cable television, high-speed internet service, and telephone service all bundled together. All three of those services are carried simultaneously in the coax or fiber optic connections to the house. The old-fashioned copper wires installed by the local phone company years ago are either abandoned or removed.
Eventually, the telephone companies’ “profit margin” per customer from POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) will shrink to zero and then go into negative numbers. It won’t be measured as profit-per-customer but will instead be recorded as the financial-loss-per-customer. In many companies, the bookkeeping has already switched to recording the financial-loss-per-customer.
No company can remain in business very long when expenses exceed revenue. In many neighborhoods, the quality of service from POTS service has already declined. The service undoubtedly will get worse unless each neighborhood is upgraded to more modern technology.
Indeed, that has already happened. Several years ago, the local telephone company where I live removed all the old-fashioned copper wires and replaced them with underground fiber optics. Most other phone companies are doing the same, upgrading their equipment to better technology that is both cheaper to purchase and cheaper to maintain. In fact, the changes often happen first in rural areas where maintaining old-fashioned copper wiring on telephone poles is more expensive than it is in urban areas.
Most telephone companies are already planning to end their POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) service, expecting it to be replaced by cell phones and VoIP phones. Many traditional telephone company customers have already been switched to a VoIP service without even realizing it. In many cases, the local phone company also sells cellular service and/or cable television and internet services.
So the writing is on the wall; traditional landlines will be unavailable in many parts of the USA within a very few years. In some neighborhoods, traditional POTS service is already unavailable today. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives in the form of cell phones and VoIP phones.
If you receive both cable television and telephone service from Verizon FIOS, your telephone probably has already been switched, perhaps without your knowledge. It is far too expensive for one company to simultaneously maintain both old-fashioned copper telephone wiring and also fiber optics for television and internet services. Instead, Verizon and perhaps some other companies have been replacing the copper wires in local neighborhoods with fiber optics. They place an “adapter” of some sort near your home to convert the fiber optic connection to traditional copper wires to connect to the telephones in your home. In this manner, the company can convert your telephone service to fiber optic service without entering your home or even notifying you of the change.
If you’re using a phone service that’s bundled with cable TV and internet service, you’re using VoIP, even if it’s delivered via a hardwired cable modem. Many cable customers select the “triple play” option only because it’s the cheapest option, and they continue to use their traditional landlines. In the near future, we may not have that ability to choose. Certainly, there must be many households that today have both cellular and VoIP service; but the point is that both have made serious dents in landline subscriber numbers, and the trend lines are clearly pointing upwards.
AT&T, Verizon, and other telephone companies want to ditch the POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) and move everyone to either cellular or VoIP services. The copper wire network that first came into widespread use in the late 19th century is ancient and deteriorating. Telcos don’t want to spend money maintaining a network that customers are abandoning in ever-increasing numbers. So the telcos are trying to end landline service.
The FCC and the U.S. states are inclined to go along. According to the Chicago Tribune at http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-att-landline-phone-service-0507-biz-20170503-story.html, state legislatures in 20 states have given AT&T the okay to end landline service in their states so that the telecommunications company can focus and invest more in wireless or internet-based phone networks. AT&T is able to terminate landline service for customers in those states with just 60 days’ notice. Details may be found at https://www.moneytalksnews.com/landline-phone-disappearing-in-these-20-states.
Emergency 911 Calling
One drawback of VoIP and cellular service used to be the lack of 911 emergency calling. However, technology has since changed that. In the U.S., E911 (Enhanced 911) is supported for wireless and VoIP phone users who dial 911, the standard number in the U.S. for requesting help in an emergency. Since wireless users are often mobile, 911 service needs some sort of enhancement that provides the user’s location to the emergency dispatchers. E911 support is mandated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for traditional mobile phone service and, since May 19, 2005, for certain VoIP service. Details may be found at: https://searchunifiedcommunications.techtarget.com/definition/E911.
NOTE: I “tested” E911 service a few years ago when I called 911 on my cell phone and asked for an ambulance. Two emergency medical technicians and their ambulance appeared in my driveway about five minutes later, soon followed by a very large firetruck. They knew where I was at the moment I called because E911 read the GPS device in my cell phone and included my exact location when making the connection to the emergency services dispatcher, along with displaying my cell phone’s telephone number. I was then transported to a local hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
The old-fashioned wires that connect traditional phones to the phone companies’ central offices are easily wiretapped. Just ask any police department. Monitoring equipment can be installed by almost anyone in your home, in the phone companies’ central offices, or anywhere in between. Most wiretap installations include equipment to record and preserve every conversation. In contrast, modern digital cell phones are very difficult to monitor. Well-funded government agencies can tap into conversations by using expensive monitoring equipment, but the typical hacker is not going to spend the money to tap into most cell phones when there are easier and cheaper targets elsewhere. However, even that is changing. Monitoring equipment is becoming cheaper, and stolen equipment is undoubtedly available as well. As a result, some hackers can monitor your cell phone conversations today.
Luckily, almost all cellular conversations can be privatized by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These networks will encrypt all conversations and even data sent and received by smartphones. Google now even includes free VPN software as an option in the company’s Pixel line of cell phones although the customer still has to enable the VPN. See https://privacyblog.com/2018/11/13/google-adds-always-on-vpn-to-its-project-fi-cellular-service/ for more information.
For all other Android and Apple phones, the addition of a VPN is both simple and effective but probably will cost a modest amount every month that you use it. See my earlier articles by starting at https://privacyblog.com/?s=vpn+cell+phone for more information. Also check the app store for your cell phone to see which VPNs are available. Installation of most of these products can usually be completed within a few minutes.
NOTE: Beware the so-called free VPNs. Most of them contain spyware or else display advertising on your phones. Nothing is ever completely free; the producing companies have to make a profit somehow. The one exception I know of is Google’s VPN for Google Fi phones. Google is already making a profit from the monthly charges for using Google Fi so the company does not need to charge extra for the VPN. Technically, theGoogle Fi VPN isn’t really free. Instead, it is “available at no extra charge.”
VoIP (Internet Calling) Services
Most VoIP services do not offer encryption on their calls. One excellent exception is Ooma, which does encrypt all calls to lock out eavesdroppers. However, the encryption offers total privacy only if both callers are using Ooma. When an Ooma user calls a non-Ooma telephone, the conversation is decrypted in Ooma’s servers and then sent to the other phone in plain text. The reason is simple: POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) is not capable of encryption without the use of additional equipment. Details may be found at: https://privacyblog.com/2014/11/01/a-better-and-more-secure-internet-phone/.
Luckily, ANY VoIP phone can be encrypted by using an internet router that has VPN software installed within the customer’s home router. In that manner, all internet communications are encrypted, including VoIP phones, email, surfing the web, streaming video (such as a Roku box), and more. Again, a telephone call is only encrypted from the user’s home to a VPN server someplace. After that, the call is connected to the old-fashioned POTS lines in plain text. See https://www.lifewire.com/best-secure-routers-4140134 for a list of some of the encrypted routers available today. However, the two encrypted routers I use are not on that list, and yet I am happy with both. One encrypted router remains at home all the time while the second one is carried in my suitcase when traveling and using hotel wi-fi connections.
Whatever you decide upon, the future of telephone communications appears to be brighter than ever before. Lower prices, more convenience, and more security is a winning combination!
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Categories: Current Affairs, Telephone Security, Thoughts About Privacy, VPN (Virtual Private Networking)
I live in one of those areas where my cell phone does not work—I keep it for travel. Furthermore, our internet is via satellite and is slow and very unreliable. So the options mentioned here are unavailable to me. We have to keep our landline as long as we can. I know AT&T doesn’t like it, though, because we’ve had so much trouble with the underground cable, which literally becomes UNburied when we have a lot of rain (don’t live on a paved road) and service becomes very poor then. I’d love to give up the expense of two phones, but thus far I cannot.