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Getting serious about eliminating landline

By Dan O'Shea / Connected Planet
April 15, 2010

Try as they might, telcos canít shake their reputations as landline voice service providers. Even embracing new identities as video service providers has not helped. Wall Street continues to focus on the dwindling portion of their business that is landline voice, while one group of consumers continues to cut the cord and another much smaller group of consumers pleads not to have their cords cut.

The latter group is coming into the spotlight again, as AT&T and other providers have been working at the state level in places such as Wisconsin and Illinois to have their regulatory requirements to offer landline voice lessened or eliminated. AT&T also asked the Federal Communications Commission last year to make the sun set faster on landline.
Various reports have suggested than only 20% or fewer of U.S. residential customers rely exclusively on landline telephony, a percentage that is no doubt shrinking even as we speak. Telcos might cite that figure to support their arguments for eliminating landline regulatory requirements, but regulators at neither the state nor federal level appear ready to do thatóso loudly does that small constituency of under-privileged consumers speak. Not all those consumers are underprivileged, of course. Some are cranky luddites, and others are just plain scared of having to rely on voice over IP or cellular quality.
The telcos may want the regulators to do the dirty work of telling this segment of consumers to get with the program, but they arenít offering much in return except a general commitment of investment in newer technologies. If the telcos are serious about eliminating the cost burden of maintaining the landline network, perhaps they need to think more creatively about how to speed the transition.
It might be time for telcos to pledge to regulators that they will give away cell phones and perhaps even femtocells to some of these consumers, where the cellular coverage is obviously strong enough to provide adequate service. In areas where itís not good enough, maybe they should make a more specific public commitment to improving cellular service or bringing WiMax to those areas. That doesnít mean covering every inch of the landscape with a wireless signal, just explaining how they can ensure some basic coverage to a very narrow segment of consumers.
Will giving free gear to some consumers annoy the other consumers who actually pay for it? It may, but thatís why service providers should create qualification programs and long-term service contracts to make sure the free gear is going to people that have no other options.
Maybe these ideas leave something to be desired, but when it comes to getting landline maintenance costs off the books, telcos should move quickly to show regulators how serious they are about making the transition a comfortable one for everyone. It may not win over every single consumer, but with a well-considered, detailed plan, telcos can get regulators to force those last few luddites into the light.

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