© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why landline phones are still calling some peoples' names

A push-button landline telephone. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
A push-button landline telephone. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Landlines, for some, are ancient history. But for others, they’re still part of the present for various reasons.

Heather Kelly, a technology reporter at the Washington Post, has written about the future of landlines. While cell phones have become the dominant form of phone communication, Kelly says landlines are especially crucial in more rural areas with spotty or no cell connection.

“A lot of it has to do with geography. I talked to multiple people, I thought this was very funny, who live at the base of a mountain, which, from my research, is now officially the worst place to live if you want a cellular connection,” Kelly says. “How much is really in it for these companies to install cell towers out there if there’s only a couple people living there?”

Landlines are connected through a network of copper wires that carry electricity. That means that when power goes out, landlines still work.

And, accessibility is another reason folks are holding onto their landlines. Setting up and connecting to Wi-Fi at home can prove difficult for less tech-savvy users. Plus, navigating cell phone interfaces can be more challenging than the buttons on a landline.

Kelly says that while landlines aren’t expected to make a big comeback like other pieces of arguably outdated technology like record players or cassette tapes, they’re not going anywhere for now, though they’re waning in popularity.

“The workforce that was used to maintain these lines, it’s aging out, she says. “They’re retiring and they’re not exactly training new people to maintain copper lines.”

We asked our listeners with landlines to tell us why they still use them. Here’s what they told us:

  • “I find my landline’s receiver much easier to hold than my flat rectangle of a cell phone,” says Amy Mayers. “My cell phone isn’t comfortable to hold and talk on for long periods of time, while my landline’s receiver fits comfortably in my hand, and it’s easy to tuck it between my ear and my shoulder.”
  • “I have family members with medical issues and I want an absolute, positive, 100% reliable connection to emergency services,” says Melissa Baern.
  • “I live in the house that I grew up in, and I can’t imagine not having the phone number that I learned when I was 6 years old in 1976,” says Patty Voss. “If I ever move, I guess I will have to let the number go.”
  • “I consider my mobile phone to be extremely private… I received little to know solicitations on my mobile,” says Katie Barker. “My private cellular number is to use with my family and friends. My house phone is for the doctor, dentist, utilities and credit card companies.”
  • “My husband and I live in central New York,” says Joanne Perry. “He is a self-employed house painter. Many of his clients are older citizens. They like being able to find our home phone number in their phone books.”
  • “The landline permits us to diagnose copper line deterioration (scratchy line leading to no dial tone) which also negatively affects our internet,” says Louise Michaels, “and proactively call our landline provider to repair our cable in the box down the road before it gets worse.”
  • “I live on cape Cod, where no matter which cell provider you have, coverage is spotty. I have so many neighbors who have to leave their apartments to find a strong signal,” says Steve Ramar. “My landline is behind the times, but it is reliable.”

Kalyani Saxena produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Michael Scotto. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR