When AT&T announced that it would end landline service in 2020, many longtime customers thought they would be losing their traditional home phones and the services attached to it, including 911 location and critical alerts for seniors.
But AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza said this isn't the end of the so-called home phone, though the equipment will be different and will operate differently. It could be wireless or have some type of connection into the home with next-generation Voiceover Internet Protocol, a technology that sends voice services through the Internet. So those 911 calls with location and emergency alert systems will have compatible equipment, he said. The phones also will provide new options, perhaps including some that we can't now foresee.
"Consumers no longer are willing to accept plain old telephone communication anymore," La Schiazza said. "They want products that either AT&T or the cable company or other competitors can provide."
AT&T, along with countless other communications/entertainment companies nationwide, has been transitioning its phone networks to more modern equipment and services. Not all companies will pull the plug on the old-fashioned landline service by 2020. Dates will be different in different parts of the country, because this hasn't been mandated by the federal government, said Danielle Coffey, vice president of government affairs for the Telecommunications Industry Association, which has about 500 industry members.
"This is driven by consumer demand," said Coffey. "Consumers are looking for more and better quality and higher bandwidth services. At the end of the day, if they don't want a service, they just won't pay for it anymore."
Currently, AT&T is operating two separate networks. One is the old TDM, or Time Division Multiplexing, system that only has the capacity for voice calling and the old dial-up modems. The second is the new fiber optic and copper technology that can provide more services, including phone with calling features, entertainment with Internet and TV services, and home security.
By 2020, AT&T will only operate the modern system. That transition has already started, considering 76 percent of households in Illinois already have dropped traditional landline phone service, he said.
About 30,000 residential and business customers per month in Illinois have been dropping their old phone system in favor of wireless or a combination of new technologies, he said.
"You get to a point where there are so few customers on the old network that it becomes uneconomical and impractical to maintain that network," La Schiazza said. "No one wants it anymore, so we've transitioning from spending our capital on that network to the products that they want."
In fact, the image of no more landlines, or wire going into the home or business, is actually a misunderstanding, La Schiazza said.
Those poles that line your streets and neighborhoods will remain. The difference is, those poles will support lines of fiber or copper, instead of the old lines.
"It opens up a much broader array of products and services," he said. The modern system will include both wireless and wired technology into the home or business. So if you're happy with that phone attached to the wall, you'll still be able to get one.
For example, AT&T now offers a wireless home phone for $19.99 a month with unlimited local calling and five call features, he said.
"It looks and smells and feels just like the phone you have now on the wall," he said. "And it will be comparatively priced."
Seniors or those with disabilities who use an emergency alert notification system connected to their traditional landline will get new equipment that would be compatible to the IP, broadband technology. The 911 location service, which can pinpoint where you are if you have an emergency, also will be there, he said.
"The majority of the 911 calls today in Illinois are really made over wireless phones anyway," La Schiazza said.
La Schiazza compared the soon-to-be obsolete technology to Ford's first Model T and Model A cars.
"Eventually, Ford didn't make Model Ts and Model As anymore because there were no more parts available and the demand for those cars dropped off. That's what's happening here and most of it has already happened."
While the 2020 deadline is roughly seven years away, La Schiazza expects some people will still have landline service. Those customers will get a letter in advance of the final cut off, he said.
So the goal in 2020 is almost like looking behind that curtain from "The Wizard of Oz." In front of that curtain is the old technology, but behind the curtain will be the new technology, La Schiazza said.
"It will become a single network that can do everything for everybody. But if the user doesn't want a bunch of things, if they just want something that's the same, then they can get that wireless home phone for $19.99 a month."
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