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Weighing the Need for a Landline in a Cellphone World

Traditional landline telephones use the old copper wire system of circuits and switches, which are generally self-powered.
Traditional landline telephones use the old copper wire system of circuits and switches, which are generally self-powered.Phillippe Diederich/The New York Times

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As I was hooking up a new phone in my living room, the kind where you plug a jack into the wall, I wondered why I was holding onto what had largely become a relic. It rarely rings, and even when it does, it’s usually the dentist or a robocaller.

Could my family do without it, much like the 38.2 percent of households that the government estimates use wireless phones alone? How reliable is wireless 911 now? And is there any big difference between the landline services offered by traditional carriers and by cable companies?

These are all questions I had only vague answers to, so I wanted to investigate whether the $900 or so annually we spent on a traditional land line was justified.

In addition to the better reception traditional phones often provide, many households also keep them for emergencies and 911. When you dial 911 from a landline, the dispatcher can generally see your address right away. Assuming you have decent reception, how many seconds might you lose when you call 911 from a cellphone?

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