1 in 5 Americans has dropped land-line phone

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One out of every five Americans no longer worries about telemarketers, tangled phone cords or getting the door unlocked before the phone inside stops ringing.

Wireless-only households jumped at a record pace of almost 3 percent in the last six months of 2008 and now are 20.2 percent of the total, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.

As recently as 2003, the number was under 5 percent, according to the Atlanta-based CDC, which monitors cell phones because they complicate polling.

“They’re going the way of the disco,” Stacy Frank, who’s 25, said of land-line phones. Frank, who works at a Washington law firm, said she wouldn’t even consider installing one.

“That’s double the cost,” she added. “Why would you have it? You can’t take it with you.”

Hard-wired customers are dropping the service at a rate of about 10 percent a year, according to Bill Kula, a spokesman for Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless provider.

Better call quality and battery life are making it easier to cut the cord, Kula said, but he doesn’t expect land lines to disappear completely. People who keep their land-line phones say they do it for safety and reliability, Verizon found in a survey last year.

A caller’s location is easier to fix when a 911 call is made from a land line. Also, land-line communication doesn’t go out when the power does or a phone battery dies or a flood of callers swamps a cellular network.

Pollsters, for their part, are concerned about hard-to-reach cell-phone users skewing their results. The Gallup Organization decided last year to begin calling cell-phone numbers in order to get a more accurate cross-section of Americans in its surveys, spokesman Eric Nielsen said.

“The cell-phone-only person is different from the general population,” Nielson said, and the CDC’s survey bore him out.

Mainly, they’re more likely to be younger than 30, the CDC found, and more likely to smoke, binge-drink, have lower incomes and lack health insurance.

(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.