No More Wires: What the Death of the Landline Means for Business

Mobile phones are rapidly becoming the top choice for telecommunications in the U.S. In fact, more than one-third of American households have disconnected their landline phone and discontinued wired phone service.

The recent report “Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January-June 2012,” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found almost half of the 20,608 U.S. adults surveyed either have no landline phone in their household at all, or have one but never use it.

Now, you may wonder why the CDC cares about this. The CDC does things like immunization surveys for adults and children. In the 2012 through 2013 flu season, that’s particularly important. In the course of its information gathering, the CDC also tracks other lifestyle habits to create a picture of the state of U.S. health.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the landline phone trends identified in the CDC’s research cut across generational lines. According to the survey, 60.1 of respondents aged 25 to 29 live in households with only mobile phones, compared with 10.5 percent of respondents over age 65.

Consumers without landlines are hard to reach

If you are a company with any B2C-facing business, or a government agency looking to reach citizens in a timely manner, these stats are significant. The nature of regulations regarding mobile phones will mean that consumers without landlines are harder to reach than those who have a landline phone.

Cellphones have no 411 directory, which makes every cellphone a private line unless you give out the number. A few times, wireless providers have attempted to set up a 411 directory for cellphones, and consumers revolted. And then there’s the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which outlawed computer-generated calls to cellphones. Back then, an incoming call to a cellphone was quite expensive, so the law made sense. But things have changed in 22 years, and the law has not been updated to reflect that.

In my own experiences, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of merchants are asking for both my mobile phone and landline phone numbers, whereas before they just specified a daytime and nighttime number.

As much as we loathe telemarketer calls, the ability for businesses to connect with people can be vitally important. A whole lot of professional pollsters were left red-faced after the 2012 U.S. presidential election when their numbers proved to be completely off the mark. Polls had Gov. Mitt Romney winning the vote in some states by four to five points, when in fact, President Barack Obama ended up winning those states by an equally wide margin.

How did this happen? The answer might be in the CDC report. Consider: 51.8 percent of adults living in poverty are cellphone-only households, while 30.7 percent of high-income adults live in cellphone-only households. Which group has larger numbers, and which group voted for which candidate? Another important stat: 58.2 percent of renters have no landline phone, while the same can be said for only 23.2 percent of home owners. Again, how do those numbers break down by party affiliation?

With an increasing number of Americans effectively falling off the traditional telecommunications grid, businesses and government agencies face an increasing challenge in reaching these people. If you haven’t already started, it’s high time you help your organization develop a plan that takes into account the limitations and legal issues of an increasingly mobile, phone-loving public.

Andy Patrizio
Andy Patrizio has covered the high-tech sector for 20 years, working for publications like InformationWeek and Currently he is a freelance contributor to Enterprise Efficiency, Network World and ITworld. He is based in Orange County, Calif.
Andy Patrizio
Andy Patrizio
Tags: Business,BYOD,Technology