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Landline telephones backbone of personal safety, property protection systems

It’s tempting.

Many people always have their cell phones with them anyway, and nationwide long-distance calls on most cell plans don’t cost anymore than a call to the local pizzeria down the street. Paying for a landline home phone can seem, well, redundant. Users could disconnect their landline home phones forever and go totally wireless, not to mention the prospect of one less bill to pay every month. A new telecommunications rule even allows users to transfer their landline phone numbers to their cellular service — home numbers instantly turned into cellular numbers.

Tempting indeed.

While the switch to an exclusively cellular existence may be appealing, it’s loaded with pitfalls that many people don’t consider.

Jerry Parkerson, general manager of sales and service at the TDS

Telecom office in Farragut, said he’s had only a handful of requests (perhaps one a month) from customers who want to switch their home landline numbers to their cellular services. “I think an awful lot of people see inherent advantages to keeping a landline service and a cellular phone service,” he said.

One of the biggest advantages of a landline phone over a cell phone, Parkerson said, is an issue of safety. Although cell phone users can dial 911, there’s a fair chance that emergency responders won’t be able to track the cell phone’s location. Landline phones, however, are instantly traceable so emergency crews can locate the person even if he or she is unable to speak.

Another safety issue would impact parents who hire babysitters to stay in their homes, Parkerson said. If the parents don’t have a landline home phone, there’s no way the babysitter could call for help — unless the babysitter just happens to bring along his or her own cell phone.

The same is true of older children who sometimes stay home alone.

Yet another safety concern is home alarm function. Many systems require a home landline to automatically contact the monitoring company when a switch is triggered.

Those are just some of the issues that deal with personal safety and property protection. There are a host of other practical concerns associated with going totally cellular.

In terms of computer access, it’s true that users can use cellular phones to access the Internet, but service is typically slower and not as reliable as with a landline connection. Also, many Internet users would go through hundreds, if not thousands, of their allotted monthly cellular minutes while online.

In addition to personal computers, there are other modern-day gadgets that require a landline to function properly. A fax machine doesn’t work well (or at all) with a cellular connection. A digital video recorder like TiVo need a landline to import programming data, and even satellite TV receivers require a telephone line to purchase pay-per-view movies.

Even though cell service plans offer hundreds and thousands of minutes in their contract packages, another consideration customers should keep in mind before going totally cellular is how quickly are those minutes going to be exhausted. If the cell phone is used for business, minutes can add up in a big hurry and usage over the contract’s airtime allowance racks up some pretty stiff charges. If there’s a chatty teen-ager in the picture, minutes will be exhausted even quicker.

Parkerson said that some customers have elected to scale down their landline telephone service in order to provide services that their cellular phones cannot. For instance, many people use their cell phones to make long-distance calls because they are contractually obligated to pay for the airtime minutes regardless if they use them or not. But when it comes to local dialing, Internet access, alarm monitoring and other uses, a landline connection probably makes for a better financial decision.

For a nearly bare-bones landline telephone connection, the bill from TDS Telecom will run about $25 a month. That includes one perk — call-forwarding so incoming calls to a user’s landline phone can automatically be redirected to a cellular phone. Of that $25 bill, taxes and fees that TDS Telecom cannot and doesn’t control account for about $7.25.

“When you think about what you get, that’s an excellent price,” Parkerson said.

Certainly there are some people for whom a totally cellular existence makes sense — a college student living in a dorm who has a broadband Internet connection, for instance, or perhaps a professional who travels extensively. With competing cellular companies offering more and more airtime minutes at bargain rate plans, no doubt there is money to be saved by eliminating a landline.

Even with the seemingly boundless reach of cellular service these days, however, there are still plenty of people who have never and may never use a cellular phone.

“Believe it or not, some people still don’t have cell phones,”

Parkerson said. “Wireless is one more service available to people, but wireless-only may not be the best fit for most.”

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