The Industry

Who Still Has Landlines?

I’m a regular reader of the Washington Post, having started to read it as a teenager. The newspaper has a great series of articles called the Department of Data, written by Andrew Van Dam. His articles look at questions asked by readers for which there are statistics available to answer the question. He recently answered the question of who still has landline telephones. The article is behind a paywall, but here is a link.

Van Dam found the answer in the National Health Interview Survey that is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. It may seem odd for this government survey to contain a few questions about telephones, but over the years, the survey has shown a correlation between having a landline and overall health. According to the survey, people who cut the cord and only use cell phones are more likely to engage in risky behavior. They are more likely to binge drink, more likely to smoke, and more likely to go without health insurance. The folks who give the survey don’t know why that is – it’s just a statistical trend that has held true for many years.

Here are some of the statistics about landline telephone service and cell phone usage from the latest NCHS:

  • 27% of homes still have a landline / 73% of homes only use cell phones.
  • 2% of homes have a landline and no cell phone.
  • Only 1% of homes have no landline or cell phone.
  • 34% of homeowners still have a landline. Only 15% of renters have a landline.
  • Landline usage is correlated with age. 88% of adults between 25-29 only use a cell phone. Only 47% of those over 65 only use a cell phone.
  • Interestingly, there is not much difference in cell phone usage based on level of education.
  • There is some correlation between household income and cell phone usage. 78% of homes that are below the poverty line only use cell phones while 72% of those making twice the rate of poverty or higher use only cell phones.
  • There is virtually no difference in the percentage of homes that use only cellphones between urban and rural areas.
  • There is a big geographic difference in households that only have cell phones. Nearly 80% of homes only use cell phones in Idaho, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Wyoming, and New Mexico. The states with the lowest percentage of homes that only use cell phones are New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. The whole northeast has fewer homes that rely on only cell phones than the rest of the country.
  • There is no correlation between still having a landline and having a computer or tablet in the home.

Van Dam speculates that the northeast has the highest percentage of landlines because Verizon built FiOS fiber networks back before the giant drop in landline subscriptions. He thinks it’s likely that people who have used Verizon FiOS for a long time have never bothered to drop the landline service.

I always find it interesting when ISPs choose to offer broadband and no telephone service. It’s really easy these days to layer on VoIP service, and it’s an easy margin with little headaches. I think many ISPs will be surprised to find that over one-fourth of homes still are willing to pay for a landline.

7 replies on “Who Still Has Landlines?”

Many ISP providers package in a mandatory landline even if its not utilized. It’s not about ‘willing to pay for a landline’. To get the better package rate you have to agree to a landline.

“Are” may not be the right verb tense. “Have been” may be better.

The Verizon finding seemed to be that, at the time of switch to FIOS, people didn’t bother to ditch landlines. Which is different from people wanting landlines and not being offered packages they’d want to add them into. It seems like a simple triumph of inertia on the one hand, rather than an unmet consumer opportunity on the other.

Doug, I would be interested in your thoughts as to whether the decline in landline subscription is related to the fact that, at least in my experience, 90+% of the messages left are from callers who have spoofed the caller-id and are otherwise scams. Further, is the failure 10+ year effort by the FCC, FTC, and the industry to stop these scams in any way a result of an industry that would like to be out of the landline business?

Dear Doug:
As long-time telephone users residing in Maryland (suburban WDC area), we have had VZ FiOS installed for years and were looking to get rid of our old clunky POTS landline. When it came time to adjusting our service, the pricing options for retaining the landline were de minimus…
Periodically, I have priced out the options for dropping the TV portion of FiOS and signing up instead for streaming services. Curiously, although streaming services all claim to save us money, it is not as much savings as one might think and they have all recently announced a rise in their prices.
We have also tried out the T-Mobile fixed wireless (FWA) product, and it has performed horrendously in comparison to FiOS.

~ Ron

P.S. If people remain in a location, they do like to keep their landline phone numbers, like a brand name or trademark for a family.

Similarly, when people move from place to place, they retain their old cell phone numbers, even if it is out-of-state or out-of-area-code. The old ph# is well-known to family and friends, and it is a great big “pain in the tush” to notify everyone of the change!!

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