Goodbye, Landline. I Won’t Miss You.

Spam and robocalls have made this stalwart communication system unusable

Old phone. Image: Victor Manuel

“I called you, but I guess you didn’t hear it,” said my mother.

“This line?” I said, popping my AirPods Pros in my ears.

“No,” she said, sounding a bit concerned (or annoyed).

“Oh, you called the house phone.”

That’s when I realized my landline was unplugged. It wasn’t broken. I’d done this on purpose.

Let’s go back two weeks ago.

My home phone rang, and even though I suspected it was a spam or robocall, I glanced at the caller ID. Seeing a local area code and knowing that there were still a handful of friends, family, and local businesses that still called this number I picked up.

I knew I was in for trouble as soon as I put the handset to my ear. The sound quality was awful. It sounded like the caller was dialing from a busy factory floor.

I offered my best monotone “hello.” The caller told me there was an erroneous $720 charge on my Amazon account and that we’d have to deal with it. It was a phishing call — they hoped to gather personal information like my Amazon information, bank account, credit card details, or even Social Security number. I hung up.

Over the next 45 minutes, the spammers called more than 20 times, each call featured a different local number but an increasingly familiar voice on the other side and the same Amazon charge warning. (A brief Twitter check revealed that I was not alone in dealing with that day’s spam tsunami.)

In desperation, I engaged with the spam caller. I told him I could barely hear him and asked how many people were in the room with him. To my surprise, he responded: “45.” I toyed with him, said I was with the FBI (he laughed and said, “No, you’re not”), and finally begged him to remove our number from the call list. He lied and said he would, and then they proceeded to call us again and again.

That’s when I pulled the plug.

I worried, for a moment, about the people (those calling from 1995) who wouldn't be able to reach us but also quickly realized that 99% of my phone conversations are now on my cellphone. Same for my wife. My adult children have rarely used the landline and only know that phone as a spam garden box and avoid it like an infected boil.

For a few days, I would quietly remind myself that I need to reconnect the line. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it. It wasn’t until my mother called that I remembered the line was unplugged.

When I told my wife, she looked at me in shock, “It’s still unplugged?”

“Yes, but have we missed any calls?”

“Um, no.”

Like millions of others, I’ve thought about giving up my landline for years. That I still have one already puts me in the minority. According to Statista, over 62% of Americans live in households where they only have cellphones. My original rationale for keeping it — it’ll still work even in a power outage — no longer qualifies. Ever since I switched to VoIP (first through FiOS and now through Optimum), the landline function is tied to my cable box. If that loses power and connectivity, that landline is dead.

Souce: Statista

I think the other reason I’ve held onto the landline is nostalgia. We’ve lived in this home since 1993 and had the same phone number the entire time. When connected to a modem (56K!), it was my gateway to the internet. It was the only way we could send and receive faxes (we still have the fax machine gathering dust in the basement). I have fond memories of running a 25-foot phone cable from my old TiVo box to the landline wall jack to update the original DVR’s programming information. Once I give up the landline, that phone number and all the memories are lost to the dusty reaches of my mind.

There is no longer any good reason to plug that line back in. It’s almost exclusively a pipeline for spammers to bore their way into my home and daily routine. In addition, I’m paying a monthly service fee to my cable company for the privilege of these dumbass calls.

My cellphone is not immune to spam and robocalls. I get two or three a day (“Your car warranty is up!”), but the majority of my calls and communication on the iPhone are useful.

The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission were supposed to solve this problem, and they did make some progress with the STIR/SHAKEN program that helps service providers identify spam and robocalls before you pick up. Occasionally, I see “spam” on the caller ID, but the hit rate is incredibly low. For now, the bad guys are far out-innovating the good ones.

The answer is to cut this line for good. Bye, landline, thanks for all the calls.

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Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.

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