Ready to Ditch That Home Phone?

Beginning Monday, many cell phone users will have another incentive to ditch their landlines thanks to a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (search). 

Local phone companies, the FCC said, must give customers in the top 100 markets the option to transfer their home phone numbers to their cell phone — so long as it's in the same calling area. (Those not in the top 100 markets will have that option by May 24, 2004.) In addition, cell phone users will be able to switch carriers without changing their phone number.

Many say these moves could speed up Americans' growing reliance on mobile phones. In fact, an estimated 2 to 3 million consumers are expected to drop their landlines over the next 18 to 24 months, according to the American Management Systems Inc. (AMSY), a global information-technology firm.

People who rely mostly on cell phones cite cost and convenience as the main motivation for cutting the cord.

"If I had a landline I would use it mostly for local calls, but since I get so many minutes per month on my cell plan and it's free nights and weekends, it sort of makes that landline obsolete," said Jennifer Barrett, a 24-year-old junior underwriter with MortgageIT in New York City who doesn't even have a landline at all any more.

"If I was going online with a dial-up, then I would have a landline, but since they have the cable connection and the wireless connections, that negates the reason for having a landline," she added.

Others are abandoning once fancy features on their landlines and maintaining the line's bare bones service. 

Sasha-Vanessa Brenes, a 30-year-old IT specialist, has a landline in her Washington, D.C., apartment with no caller ID, call waiting or any other bells and whistles.

"I don't get phone calls on my home phone, I only use it for dial-up," she said. "I'm hardly ever home, I'm such a transient person."

But there is danger associated with ditching old-fashioned telephone lines. During events like last summer's power outage that plunged the Eastern seaboard into darkness and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it was extremely difficult to get through to someone via cell phone.

"Then the landlines are more reliable," said Tommy Palumbo, a 24-year-old law school student at George Mason University. "[It's] a more viable option when it comes to emergencies."

When the power goes out or cell phone towers are damaged, sometimes a landline is the only way to communicate.

Yet, many like Palumbo feel they need a cell phone for everyday life.

"I've become completely dependent on my cell phone, not only to remind me of events but to access phone numbers," Palumbo said.

Many said the best aspect of the new FCC rules is the ability to transfer cell-phone carriers without having to change phone numbers. Previously, changing carriers meant getting a new number, which can be a hassle that entails informing friends and colleagues of the new number and risking losing important calls.

"People are going to be less loyal to their cell phone service because they can now keep their number," said Peter Lawrence, 37, of Canajoharie, N.Y. "A lot of people usually stay with the company so they can keep their number."

For others, disconnecting their home phone and just having one number is an even greater convenience.

"The [landline] is just another bill each month and all the people I work with, everybody that I know except for a few people and family, call my cell phone," Lawrence said. "They know they're going to get me on the cell phone. They don't always know if they're going to get me at home."

Still, Lawrence said he doesn't know many people willing to give up their landline altogether — including his wife, Kim.

"I have a fear, just with the whole charging of the cell phone, if you don't remember to charge it ... you don't have a backup," said Kim, an assistant director for resident services at a home for the developmentally disabled. "Also, I don't think reception is all that good." 

Many older people also aren't willing to go completely high tech quite yet.

Palumbo's parents, for example, only use their cell phones in their car.

"I don't think they'll get rid of their landline, ever," he said.