April 1, 2011

Should the FCC shift support from landlines to broadband?

I got an email from a friend that brought the following to my attention:

The FCC believes that the switched telephone network (i.e. telephone lines and switching centers) is obsolete and should be dismantled. Therefore FCC's policy is to phase out telephone lines during the coming years and replace them with broadband service. In other words, the FCC wants ordinary telephones to be entirely replaced with cell phones and computers (voice over Internet). The first step is to take money that is now being used to subsidize rural telephone service and subsidize broadband (i.e. Internet) services instead.

I know many people enjoy the benefits of using cell phones, but landlines have their benefits and should not be phased out. Pros and cons of landlines can be found here, here and here. In a nutshell, landlines do not offer mobility and cost more, but they come in handy and can be crucial in emergencies when cell phone reception is uneven or you can't find where you put the dang thing. Switched lines also let emergency personnel know your location.

Other problems with cell phones include privacy issues. Anyone with the right frequency can tap into conversations. The tiny, fragile devices can be lost or broken and need to be charged to work, not possible when the power is out. Some folks who forget to charge their cell once in a while also run into problems.

Some individuals prefer not to use cell phones for health reasons. The health risks of cell phones are gradually being verified. Some of that information is referenced here, here and here. The truth is that cell phones are not proven to be safe, especially for children. Parents who want to protect their kids from being guinea pigs for wireless radiation need to have landlines available. People with medical implants are also reporting interference from radiofrequency devices, including cell phones. Plus nearly ten million Americans have electromagnetic sensitivities (3%) and if landlines are no longer available, we will end up with no telephones we can routinely use.

I'm not saying people shouldn't be able to use cell phones, but that we should have the choice and option to use landlines as a backup or primary phone. The FCC intends to end our ability to choose. They are accepting comments on this until April 18.

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