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Landline-Less, Finally, and Doing OK. I Think.

After learning that the phone company wanted to stop offering landline service, I decided to leave before being dumped

By Kathleen Doheny

The letter came without warning. Or maybe I just wasn't paying attention. I've been dumped a time or two, and the tone was familiar. The message was harsh, and I detected undertones of bitterness.

A person holding a landline telephone. Next Avenue, AT&T
"Nearly 73% of adults and 82% of children lived in wireless-only households in the second half of 2022. While about 24% of households had both landlines and wireless, a paltry 1% had only landlines."  |  Credit: Getty

No "Dear Kathy," no nothing. It started out: "Territory AT&T California Seeks to Withdraw from as a Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) Zip Code 91505." This was so urgent that AT&T evidently didn't have time to write a coherent headline.

When I called for details, the AT&T representative sounded like she was trying to talk me out of it.

It did, however, have a brightly colored map, right underneath that headline, just in case you momentarily lapsed on your ZIP code. Sure enough, my house was within the dotted boundaries. I read on:

"AT&T California has submitted an application to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that if approved, would remove AT&T's obligation under California law to provide traditional landline phone service in a large portion of our service territory in California."

Obligation? Oh please, AT&T, I'm no one's obligation. I've been thinking about dumping you for years, and now you're dumping me? But perhaps this was just the push I needed.

Go. No, Stay

When I called for details, the AT&T representative sounded like she was trying to talk me out of it. It wasn't going to be immediate, she reminded me, and the application to withdraw had not yet been approved.

And, she said, echoing the letter, AT&T has committed to providing service to existing landline customers for at least six months after the CPUC approves of the proposal. It sounded like, "Hey, hang on, we'll dump you eventually, just not today."

Blah blah blah. I was done . . . I think. . . . Way past time to get with it. Just how out of touch was I, I wondered, and so I did some research. According to the National Health Interview Survey, which keeps tracks of wireless versus landline homes, nearly 73% of adults and 82% of children lived in wireless-only households in the second half of 2022. While about 24% of households had both landlines and wireless, a paltry 1% had only landlines.

Let's Take a Poll

Was I the last in these parts to cut the cord? I put a photo of my landline phone with the giant numbers on Facebook and unscientifically polled my friends. I also casually mentioned my plan to dump the landline to whoever I talked to in the next few days.

The camps were divided. One was the "Are you kidding me, do you also still have 45's?" group. My twin sister Maureen, who also has a home office, said it had been 15 years since she dumped her landline; no need for it.

Escaping Telemarketers

Others cited similar concrete reasons: "We did it because of the annoying sales calls and the money," Mary Jane said. Bob gets that, saying when the ratio of real calls to "crap calls" got out of whack, it was time to say goodbye.

There was a middle ground group, folks who dumped their traditional landline but urged me to get a backup, a VOIP service such as Magic Jack or Ooma. So I called my favorite internet provider, Spectrum, to ask about their service. Cheap enough, $19.99 a month, but the rep admitted, upon my grilling her, that yes, I'd still get scam calls and telemarketers.

"We did it because of the annoying sales calls and the money."

Friends who were fans reached out to explain more. Just buy a box and . . . and . . . I was starting to get a techno-headache.

Some of my friends got sentimental. Albert keeps his landline for his 90-year-old godmother, who doesn't have a cell phone and loves to talk on the landline . . . to him. Linda kept her landline because it's her preferred mode for long chats.

Then there were the "No, Never!" folks, as in "Don't give it up." Colleen wrote, in all caps, "KEEP THAT LAND LINE!" A cell phone can go out at any time, she reminded me. Even a fully charged one.

What Am I Afraid Of?

I moved on to think about chief fears holding me back. Earthquakes. It is California. Wouldn't a landline be lots more reliable during a quake? I Googled around, finding that way back in 2015 Los Angeles began requiring new freestanding cell phone towers be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. OK, just be sure you're near one of those new ones, I guess.

What if the cell provider, earthquake or not, goes down in the middle of an important conversation, or right before a phone interview for work? What if there is a giant blackout? I was thinking how improbable that was, until, on cue, AT&T announced it had a widespread cellular outage affecting thousands of its customers.

But hey, it wasn't a cyberattack, just some sort of operator error. And it didn't last forever.

Other fears seemed more manageable. What about a wet cell phone? Apple knows what to do: skip the rice; instead, disconnect, let it dry out and don't recharge for 5 hours.

But how often would all or any of this happen? Even after the worst earthquake, I have faith that Lucy Jones, our favorite seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and chief soother, would find a way to communicate with us.


I was almost there, but wondering why I was having so much trouble with what others clearly saw as a no-hassle, no-second-thoughts decision. I reached out to a couple therapists, requesting an interview about how to transition through changes, their specialty area. Both, when they heard the topic, cited schedules too busy to fit me in for even 15 minutes. I read that as: "Is this woman kidding me? In the grand scheme of things. . . ."

Then my friend Beverly sealed the deal. "With a cell, you've got everything in the palm of your hand: phone, news, social media, texts, video." She was right! And for me, don't forget the all-important Google map as well as apps to play with while waiting for doctors, dentists or late repair people.

That's It!

Logic won out and I made the final arrangement, this time getting an AT&T rep who sounded like she couldn't care less if I left her employer. Great. Dump day was coming up.

On the day of the unplug, I tested the headset in my home office. Nothing. I tried the phone off the living room. Also dead.

And then I enjoyed the quiet. I'm liking it even more than I thought. I still need to figure out what to do with the phone jacks in the wall.

The headset phone in my office is still on my desk, just to remind myself how far I've come. And, OK, because my granddaughter loves to play office with it and she's too young for a cell phone.

Soon, I'll pay my final bill of $10.18, and then call back about the phone jacks, assuming they're still taking my calls. Just in case that same rep is working that day.

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who writes about health and lifestyle topics. Read More
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