How many people still have landlines? How many readers have actually used a rotary phone? Remember when you had to lease your phone from The Phone Company?

Telecom giants AT&T and Verizon Communications are lobbying states, one by one, to hang up the plain, old telephone system, what the industry now calls POTS–the copper-wired landline phone system whose reliability and reach made the U.S. a communications powerhouse for more than 100 years.

Last week, Michigan joined more than 30 other states that have passed or are considering laws that restrict state-government oversight and eliminate “carrier of last resort” mandates, effectively ending the universal-service guarantee that gives every U.S. resident access to local-exchange wireline telephone service, the POTS. (There are no federal regulations guaranteeing Internet access.)

The two providers want to lay the crumbling POTS to rest and replace it with Internet Protocol-based systems that use the same wired and wireless broadband networks that bring Web access, cable programming and, yes, even your telephone service, into your homes.

  1. Glenn E. says:

    I think the whole idea of guaranteeing that everyone had access to a phone service. Was so we could call the Police or fire department. And more recently, the EMTs. Then made the landlines work with 911, so people in need of emergency assistance, could be quickly located. I don’t see how Cell phones, will be about to work with 911 dispatching, so effectively. If one’s call has to go through the cell towers. The fiber optic enabled phones, must be using the Internet, rather than the hard wired exchanges. And that still works in emergencies. But it must have a local battery backup to keep the phone working. Because no power comes over the Fiber. And the battery cell fails every few years. So it needs replacing. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the system won’t fail. My neighborhood had a power failure last year, and even the fiber optic line was dead. Maybe I needed to push the emergency power button, on the box. I was never told, that it wasn’t switched on, automatically. Seems stupid that it wouldn’t be.

  2. Glenn E. says:

    About 97% of the phone calls I get over my POTS, is from telemarketers. Maybe once a week or less, I hear from a close relative. Or I call them. I email, more often than I call. So they can read and answer back, when they have the time. But I can’t rely on the fire department, or the Police, to get my email, when I need help. And as the article says, 911 can’t locate you over a cell phone. So that’s basically why I keep it. In spite of the nuisance calls.

    If we were all forced to go cellular. I’m certain that the nuisance calls would just be transferred over to that network. No way are the Telecoms going to give up their profits from selling those “anonymous” or real, Caller IDs. They’re just keeping the cell phone network Telemarketer free, for now. To make switching over to it, much more attractive. As soon as there is no more choice. Expect the flood gate of nuisance calls to open onto the cell phone network. If you want privacy again, you’ll have to pay for it.

    • CrankyGeeksFan says:

      Presently, cell phone numbers aren’t supposed to be called by telemarketers. Land line telephone numbers need to be placed on the Do Not Call Registry. That should eliminate all telemarketers except charities with possibly a few other exceptions.

      Keep the Do Not Call Registry regardless of a wireless mandate for telephone numbers.

  3. Al G. Bell says:

    No one mentions voice quality. Cellular connections are often indecipherable, compared to POTS. The only reason we tolerate voice quality that 1930′s Bell engineers would cringe at, is the portability of the cell phone. VoLTE may improve that, but will be a long time becoming ubiquitous. If ever; and many calls sound crappy because the RF connection is tenuous and error-ridden, stretching the amazing data and codec algorithms to the limit. If you know how it works, it’s amazing the cellular system works as well as it does. It’s hardly a replacement for hardline. Verizon paid me to switch to VOIP over FiOS and quality is very good, but I knew I was losing some legal protections – why else would Verizon pay me? I alway call over land line, VOIP or not, at work or play, whenever I can because of the distortion of cell calls.

    • CrankyGeeksFan says:

      Verizon wants to phase out its POTS local loop networks that badly.

      I know one person who just wanted Verizon FiOS for TV. Verizon installed the fiber optic line, but disconnected his copper twisted -pair wires at his house. This forced him to use FiOS for internet and voice as well as video.

      This person works at an independent DSL ISP. Without a doubt, Verizon wants to eliminate these ISPs from competition.

  4. Anon says:

    I can never count on a cell phone. The call quality is so poor (and I have some sort of odd effect with wireless signals up close) that I am often doing well to decipher half of what is said. I hardly use the telephone, though, so I cannot justify the cost of anything more than the prepaid “dumbphone” cell with minimal minutes on it that I keep around. How I would like an old basic landline instead–with a call blocker device attached for all those telemarketers that I remember from childhood days–if the price was competitive. I could actually hear the other person the first or second time they said something!

  5. Itty Bitty says:

    Yes, I have a rotary phone. And yes, I still have a “land line” too. Though my land line is now via a new technology called VoIP (for only $30 a YEAR). I call it my “land line” since the wiring in my home is still the same and allows me to still use my ancient phone equipment — such as my rotary phone! However, my VoIP service does require Internet access. And despite all the tax breaks, trillions of profits that were earmarked for upgrades (which so far haven’t happened) and a deregulation that gives even more breaks to a very few monopolistic Internet service providers (ISP’s), my Internet is still delivered via a copper wire – coax! The very same wire that was once used to exclusively receive HBO!!!

    It may interest you to know that I used to work as a phone technician back in the day when there were heavily regulated uses for our public phone wires (tip and ring – which is still quite “twisted”). I frequently dealt with things like party lines, COCOT (customer owned coin operated telephone) lines and was always seemingly terminating bundles of wires or splicing them together. My job was also to install and repair end user equipment like rotary/push-button phones, payphones, phone lines, termination points and even dealt with some basic KSU systems. Though I never really got to deal with any of the central office (CO) switching equipment and things like crossbar — which is the fundamental technology behind rotary “signaling”.

    Yes. I know what a rotary phone is. But what I still don’t know is what it meant to ask a real human operator to be connected to “Transylvania 6-5000″ on a phone that had nothing but a microphone and receiver. I bet that’s something of an even bigger mystery to the majority of people who are still ALIVE! And yet, when we see someone like Humphrey Bogart (or James Coburn) say it in an old movie we know it’s the same phone system. But what we seem to forget is that it’s still the SAME WIRES that have also never really been upgraded!!!

    • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and junior culture critic says:

      Yep, the wires still work.

      I read once that with the as near as you can get equivalent of phone service today WITHOUT automatic switching, EVERYONE IN THE WORLD could be employed as a telephone (manual switching) operator.

      Society made a choice to do away with all those decent, moral, quality jobs. Now we blame the workers for not getting a job.

      Talk about your twisted wires.

      • Itty Bitty says:

        Clearly you don’t remember what “cross talk” is. So I won’t try to explain every possible interference scenario. Just know that a lot of inductance problems like cross talk could be solved if the wires were simply changed out to BETTER wires.

        Smaller gauge (bigger physically), better shielding and more twists per inch are just some of the things that make wire “better” for things like analog phone connections — as well as for certain digital signals too. In fact, these very qualities of shielding, twists and gauge are what distinguishes category 3 from category 5 and category 6. But try to use any of it for an antenna or as a replacement to your car battery wires and you just might have a problem. Point is, use the right wire for the right application and use better wire for better performance.

        But even the best wire is no match for fiber optic when it comes to communications. And the phone companies could easily reign once again as a monopoly, possibly putting every cable company out of business, if they just did what they promised to do way back when — improve infrastructure!

        However, I don’t expect it to happen any time soon, if at all. Because watching the cable and phone companies fight it out is a bit like watching a couple of retarded cows eat (which also kind of describes the average subscriber when you think about it.)

        • CrankyGeeksFan says:

          My fifty year old house has 3-wire telephone inside wiring. As I understand it, this was installed so that homes on the same party line would have different rings. A particular combination of wires in one house would allow only that home to ring .

    • Itty Bitty says:

      … And as far as decommissioning “POTS” goes. It seems like a bad idea when you consider the TAX DOLLARS that have already been spent.

      FYI: It took DECADES OF TAX MONEY that every citizen had to double up on that your local phone companies didn’t have to pay. (Hint to the dummies: check out what a PUC is.) The reasoning was – and still is – that the phone companies would save on taxes so that they could instead provide more service to more people — eventually for more money. Sound familiar?!!!

      All anyone really needs to do is nationalize the telephone infrastructure (again) or do it in some way that would not involve big business. Requiring that any such trustee never trade company stock may be something to seriously consider — very much like how the USPS is run (who would be a near perfect fit too). Then all anyone would need to to is change the copper wire over to fiber or even just get better copper. But take away POTS and it will forever hand over control to the remaining competition, CABLE and CELL! And do we really want to do that? Do we really want the ONLY ISP’s and phone providers to be cable or cell?! I say, no!

      Now, think about where the bloody hell Google, Microsoft, and Apple are in any of this. Companies that even if they were prevented from profiting directly could STILL profit if they just took over and improved the infrastructure by installing fiber next to, or in place of what’s there now.

      Think also about who’s correctly telling us that POTS is old and therefore (incorrectly) needs to go away. Answer: the politicians and big business who the POTS companies can’t pay off are saying it! And yes, these nay sayers are correct — POTS is old and desperately needs attention. But POTS should NOT be abandoned – it should be CHANGED! (Something that I do believe Google is at least halfheartedly trying to do.)

      • CrankyGeeksFan says:

        Better quality wiring would probably increase the range of DSL beyond 18,000 feet, too.

    • MikeN says:

      Since you’re a phone technician, you know this already, but for others using VOIP and the home’s phone jacks, be sure to disconnect the main phone box from the outside wiring.

  6. Greg Allen says:

    Why is almost every comment on this article about cell phones replacing land-lines?

    The article clearly says that IP protocols could replace phones. Not cell phones!

    >>The two providers want to lay the crumbling POTS to rest and replace it with Internet Protocol-based systems

    At work, I use an IP phone and it is NO DIFFERENT.


    My IP phones dials and sounds just like a traditional phone. And, better yet, the intercom works over long distances, not just within the building. I just love that part.

    It has a bunch more features than a regular phone — like an address book and all that.

    Why not put IP phones in houses, instead of the old tech?

    The vast majority of people would know no difference.

    • deegee says:

      Not everyone in the “modern” world has fast internet like you.
      My brother’s workplace uses IP Phones. The fastest Internet here from Telus is 6Mbps (that is all we will ever get… ever, according to Telus). When we talk from my land-line to his IP phone, there is a noticeable delay (~1/8th second) and a hollow sound.

      • Greg Allen says:


        But, they could.

        It’s called progress.

        I know that almost half the country is four-square against progress but a few of us still believe that we can have the good stuff like South Korea does.

        • Sammy says:

          It seems that you have a real problem with people who don’t choose to live in overly congested urban area. It’s the price we gladly pay to live where we would like without the traffic, the crime, and all else that comes with living in cities or suburbs.
          you say progress, all I see is squalor.

          Its a business decision for these companies to provide upgraded wiring to rural areas based on price per mile and return on investment. But I’m certain a Liberal like yourself would prefer that the government got involved and provide fiber optic to every nook and cranny of the country, at taxpayers expense.

          Where does it end with you guys anyway?

          • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and junior culture critic says:

            It begins and ends with trying to achieve the most good for the most people.

            There are Pros and Cons to living in rural areas, the cities, suburbs, on a boat, in your car. You find pristine and squalor in all places, including between your ears.

            CORPORATIONS operate according to legal requirements. If optical cabling is decided as a general good, then thats the rule. AFTER THE RULE AND CONSISTENT WITH IT: let market efficiencies have their way.

            See the way?

        • CrankyGeeksFan says:

          Where I live, Verizon definitely wants to eliminate their voice grade POTS wiring for FiOS.
          The cable company has coax for its “last mile”. The cable company’s backbone is fiber optic cable.

  7. MikeN says:

    This is what happens when Benedict Arnold consumers decide to buy their phone service from European VOIP companies rather than support local workers.

    • Greg Allen says:

      Our VOIP phones are American-branded.

      Only goodness knows where they are made. We _should_ make that kind of thing here. This is why I supported Obama’s America Jobs Act. But, the Benedict Arnold’s filibustered it.

      • Sammy says:

        Obama doesn’t know how to create jobs because he’s never had a job.

        What a joke.

        • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and junior culture critic says:

          Facts don’t mean a niggly thing to you.

          Call it Obama as much as you want, but it is CONGRESS that “creates jobs” in the sense that you are using it.

          Shit for brains.

        • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and junior culture critic says:

          Facts don’t mean a niggly thing to you.

          Call it Obama as much as you want, but it is CONGRESS that “creates jobs” in the sense that you are using it.

  8. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    I have a disconnected central ringer bell (it sounds like a school bell) in my house because the individual ringers were then removed from telephones. This was the standard way – early 1960s – if there was more than one phone in a house.

    Apparently, many telephone central offices now have equipment that no longer can process rotary dial or pulse dial signals from telephones.

    “Remember when you had to lease your phone from The Phone Company?” If the telephone wires are removed from the current situation, this situation is very similar to the present day “contract” plans that cell phone companies use.

  9. Glenn E. says:

    Getting rid of POTS, eliminates a lot of expense for the phone company to maintain things like batteries, at their end. The batteries end up at the customer’s end, instead. I haven’t learned yet, if the expense of replacing them is also the customers or not. People I’ve asked about this, seem to forget whether or not they were billed for the battery replacement and/or labor. I know, I’d remember!

    Even though my number is on the do not call registry. I still get calls from outfits I’ve never heard of, or done any business with. And there’s just way to many “exceptions” allowed. Charities that never stop calling, no matter how many times you tell them you have nothing, or don’t want to be bothered anymore. They don’t care, they just move on to the next number on their lists, they never bother to update or correct. And cell phones are not 100% immune to these nuisance callers either. My sister tells me she’s been getting a few on her cell phone. So it won’t be long before that small advantage goes completely away.

    What really bugs me is how the phone company permits these nuisance callers to hide their identity. The phone company calls them “anonymous” callers. But I’ve never see Caller ID show me that name. It’s mostly “UNAVAILABLE” or “Out of area”. And occasionally “Private caller”. Once in a blue moon, there’s an actual business ID. So I guess the phone company is in the generic Caller ID selling business, too. “Unavailable”, my ass. They could label it, whatever the heck it is. Like “Marketer”, “Charity”, “Political”, etc.

  10. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    The customer pays for the battery with Verizon and Comcast.

    I know people who recently switched their phones from the local phone utility to the local cable utility. Their CallerID “accuracy” went down, just as you described; with “UNAVAILABLE” and “Private” being a lot more common now. Maybe, the new cable phone carrier is prone to CallerID spoofing; can’t interprete the signals properly; or a case of “you get what you pay for”.

  11. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    Also, AT&T and Verizon in Florida lobbied a few years ago for dropping the white pages directories requirement for resedential customers.