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Or Why Old Tech Isn't Always Bad


I've seen a few articles and even a Dilbert cartoon lately that suggest (or outright say!) that you must be crazy to have a landline – or what we old folks call a "regular" phone line, with a wire leading back to the phone company.While that might be true for some people, I'm not ready to give up my landline just yet.

Sure, my wife and I both have cell phones, and have for quite a few years now. But we don't give out the cell numbers to just anybody. Plus, we've had the landline number for 20 years. There are a lot of folks that have that number (that don't have the current cell numbers, which we've only had for about 3 or 4 years).


I could switch over to Comcast's voice service or Vonage I suppose – that would save me $20-30 a month. I could even go with a "Magic Jack." But I'm not fond of the idea of relying on Comcast for my phone line. Should I rely on the service that fluctuates greatly in speed day to day (which I'm sure can't be good for sound quality) or goes out altogether 5-6 times a year, or should I count on the service that's gone out maybe 3-5 times in the 20 years I've been at this house?

Yes, having a landline costs a lot in comparison to a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service on my Internet connection. But when the big blackout hit, guess what utility was still working? After about an hour, it wasn't my cell service, and Internet was down right away. But I never lost my landline service. So sometimes you do get what you pay for.

I think part of this attitude comes from my mainframe roots. When I was first working in IT, our mainframes weren't all that reliable, so we had a lot of backup procedures and redundant equipment. It's a mindset I've gotten into with many things not necessarily IT related. 

For example, I have a full-house generator. It's powered by natural gas, so I don't have to worry about keeping fuel on hand. It kicks in automatically if I lose power for more than 30 seconds. I bought it after the big blackout. I can hear some of you snickering – "we haven't had a blackout like that since, worrywart!" No – but every summer, my neighborhood loses power 3-4 times for 4-8 hours at a stretch. Edison comes out and fixes it up, but something always happens to set it off again – a squirrel gets into a transformer (that one lasted a couple of days), someone hits a power pole with a car (even with underground wires, there are electric poles that lead into the subdivision, and twice in the past few years someone has crashed into them, knocking out the power), or some other weird event occurs. So I get plenty of use out of it.

So back to the landline – just because it's older tech doesn't mean you can't integrate it with modern tech. I have answering machine software on one of my old Cubes that keeps track of all incoming and outgoing calls, has multiple voice mailboxes, can play different messages based on the caller, allows for remote message retrieval, and even emails the message as an audio file to my iPhone. It also announces the name/number of the caller and displays it on the monitor. I can use it to record calls (with the legally-required in some states "beep" every so often) if I want. 

The software is called PhoneValet Message Center ($169), and I've been using it for several years now. You don't need a modem on your Mac – it comes with a USB connector to hook up to your phone line. There are optional modules to let you access your messages via web pages and to show the caller ID info on any networked Mac (or Windows) machine on your local LAN – but I wrote my own before they were available, so I can't say much about those add-ons. But if they're as good as the rest of the system they should work fine. You can hook up multiple lines if you want – you just have to buy extra licenses (and USB adapters). I've been very happy with this meld of "obsolete" tech and new tech.

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6 Responses to Telephone Line

  1. Phyllis Evans says:

    Thank you, Jack! I’ve had this same conversation with Bright House twice in the last 10 days. Had to laugh at the last one who insisted that their 4-hour backup was good enough for power outages. Nope. I’ll keep my landline, too.

  2. Jack Beckman says:

    And looky here, from today’s Detroit News, a story about 2500 homes and businesses without power for an undetermined time. But their landlines, independently powered, probably still work.

  3. Calvin says:

    I am one too that retains the landline. It’s reliable and like you said, worked through the blackout. In fact I used dialup during that time to check out news on the internet. Slow but it provided information.

  4. Jack Beckman says:

    I must have been psychic today. AT&T want to end analog landlines. I guess they plan to wire everyone for U-verse, which I hope is more reliable than their DSL tech. We have DSL lines for work that go down multiple times a day every few days, and they won’t even look into it unless 4 hours has passed (I guess they think DSL lines “heal”).

  5. arrakian says:

    Having the land line be the only thing working during The Blackout was proof for me that it was needed even more than a cellular. One thing though- it’s best to have the land line phone be non-cordless, without extra features, as they can operate with the small amount of juice in the line.

  6. Jack Beckman says:

    Right – I have one corded phone always hooked up and a couple in the basement I can hook up if necessary, because the wireless ones will be useless without power for the base stations. Of course, now I have the generator, but if for some reason that failed I’d still have at least one working phone.