MANTOLOKING, N.J. — Robert Post misses his phone line.
Post, 85, has a pacemaker that needs to be checked once a month by phone. But the copper wiring that once connected his home to the rest of the world is gone, and the phone company refuses to restore it.
In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy pushed the sea over Post’s neighborhood in Mantoloking, N.J., leaving hundreds of homes wrecked, and one floating in the bay. The homes on this sandy spit of land along the Jersey Shore are being rebuilt, but Verizon doesn’t want to replace washed-away lines and waterlogged underground cables. Phone lines are outdated, the company says.
Mantoloking is one of the first places in the country where the traditional phone line is going dead. For now, Verizon, the country’s second-largest landline phone company, is taking the lead by replacing phone lines with wireless alternatives. But competitors including AT&T have made it clear they want to follow. It’s the beginning of a technological turning point, representing the receding tide of copper-wire landlines that have been used since commercial service began in 1877.
The number of U.S. phone lines peaked at 186 million in 2000. Since then, more than 100 million copper lines have already been disconnected, according to trade group US Telecom. The lines have been supplanted by cellphones and Internet-based phone service offered by way of cable television and fiber optic wiring. Just 1 in 4 U.S. households will have a copper phone line at the end of this year, according to estimates from industry trade group US Telecom. AT&T would like to turn off its network of copper landlines by the end of the decade.
For most people, the phone line’s demise will have little impact. But there are pockets of the country where copper lines are still critical for residents. As a result, state regulators and consumer advocates are increasingly concerned about how the transition will unfold.
The elderly and people in rural areas, where cell coverage may be poor or nonexistent, will be most affected by disappearing phone lines, Harlold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, a Washington-based group that advocates for public access to the Internet and other communications technologie, said. “Are we going to handle this transition in a way that recognizes that we have vulnerable populations here?”
Verizon says replacing the lines just doesn’t make economic sense.