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Can You Hear Me Now?

More and more Americans are dropping landlines in favor of cellular phones. Approximately one in four households in the United States use mobile-only service.

More and more Americans are dropping landlines in favor of cellular phones. Approximately one in four households in the United States use mobile-only service.

“It didn’t seem like we needed a landline any more – it was just an extra bill – but the reception on my cell wasn’t good inside the house, so I had to go outside to talk, which, in the winter, wasn’t so great,” she says.

Another problem turned out to be the deal breaker. When her husband had a seizure and she dialed 911 on her cell phone,  the call was routed to the Colorado Springs dispatch center, which, in turn, had to be forwarded to emergency responders in Manitou.

“The response time was longer, and I didn’t want to risk that again, or not being able to find my cell phone in a panic situation,” says Keller, who works in the real estate industry.

So last spring, one year after relinquishing the house landline, it appeared back on the wall.

“I’m glad for it, for my peace of mind. It makes sense for us,” Keller says.

Despite some disadvantages, more households than ever are booting their home phones in favor of wireless communication. A 2010 report by the National Health Interview Survey determined that one in four households in the United States use mobile-only service – which translates to nearly 60 million adults and 19 million children.

The reasons for landlines going the way of payphones aren’t hard to figure out.
“You can’t take your landline with you; the benefits of mobile devices is mobility,” says Allen Tsai, publisher of Mobiledia.com, a web site that reviews cell phones and provides side-by-side comparisons.
The development of smartphones, which offer such features as cameras, global positioning systems and web browsers, have accelerated the trend, says Margaret Rock, a writer at mobiledia.com.

“Smartphones have led to quick adoption,” she says, “as people realized they could do more things with their phones and questioned whether they needed a landline.”

Kyle Partain, a Colorado Springs resident who works in sports publishing, disconnected his home phone in October 2011, and now, “I can barely even remember having one,” he says.

Initially, he said it was important for him and his wife, Amy, to always be accessible to their son, once he started school. Now, “We’ve used our iPhones to find restaurants, check email while away from home, get directions to friends’ houses …” Partain says. And,

“We have all the features of a landline, with the convenience of a portable smartphone for roughly the same cost.”

The movement is not universal, though, Rock says.

“It has a lot of momentum – but that doesn’t mean everybody is on board,” she says. “The perception is that everybody’s going mobile, but obstacles are leaving some people behind. Unreliable service is disenfranchising some from being able to communicate anytime, anywhere.”

Though wireless carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are continually upgrading their systems and reception isn’t much of an issue in urban areas, spotty network coverage can be a headache for users who live or travel in the mountains or rural country, such as the Pikes Peak region.

Switching carriers sometimes helps, but for most, it’s an inconvenience worth the price of mobility, says Tsai, whose initial web site spawned another site, CellReception.com. It features more than 65,000 comments about reception from mobile phone users. The site also pinpoints the location of 151,000 Federal Communications Commission-registered cell phone towers across the nation.

Nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs has several hot spots where reception quality is poor or service simply is nonexistent, such as the Broadmoor neighborhood, atop Fillmore Hill, up and down Ute Pass, between Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs, and other pockets. Go farther west, and the lack of coverage intensifies.

And recent disasters, such as the Waldo Canyon Fire and Hurricane Sandy, taught a valuable lesson, as taxed networks and power outages compromised mobile service for many users.

Some local residents who had registered their cell phones for emergency notification, like Rachel Buller, owner of Manitou Springs Real Estate, didn’t receive the reverse 911 call to evacuate.

“That was definitely a disadvantage,” says Buller, who discontinued her landline more than six years ago. “I found out because I’d talked to my mother-in-law, who has a landline, earlier in the day and asked her to call me. They also went door-to-door to tell us to evacuate.”

Still, the easy, quick and constant ability to communicate with the world, including family and friends, are benefits that far outweigh the drawbacks, say those who have severed the landline.

“I like the choices we have with service and carriers,” Buller says. “We wouldn’t ever go landline again, unless we had to.”