Landline phones may seem less of a necessity for city dwellers, but some in rural communities with limited wireless options count on getting a dial tone at their homes. In North Carolina, phone companies no longer are obligated to provide those landlines, as the result of changes made in the last legislative session.
Wally Bowen, founder of the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, says stories he's heard from customers about aging landlines have him concerned.
"When you have that legacy of neglect by these incumbent carriers, it's puzzling why the Legislature would be allowing them to turn their backs on this infrastructure."
The major telephone carriers continue to provide landline service to their current customers and, so far, none has opted to discontinue it. With the change in state law, however, if companies choose to opt out of being what's known as a "carrier of last resort," they lose eligibility for federal money.
The universal service obligation expired last year after being in place for 99 years nationwide. Bowen is concerned about the impact it might have on more rural or mountainous communities, where wireless service is sparse.
"It's really the only infrastructure that's out there available to them, unless they can get a wireless signal from AT&T or one of the incumbents or Verizon Wireless."
North Carolina joins Florida, Texas and Wisconsin in repealing the universal-service obligations. AT&T has said in published reports that it only wants to end its landline service in places where two or more phone service options already are available. Broadband is another growing option for rural communities, to make calls and access the Internet.