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Telecom giants aim to unplug landlines

A sign is posted in front of a Verizon Wireless store on January 24, 2012 in San Francisco, California.
A sign is posted in front of a Verizon Wireless store on January 24, 2012 in San Francisco, California.
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AT&T and Verizon, among other phone providers, are trying to end their 99-year old universal service obligation known as “provider of last resort," according to research by Reuters.

The legal right to landline telephone service in almost every home has been a guarantee historically -- although it's one fewer Americans are signing up for. Now the major service providers are drafting new rules to end that commitment due to high costs for the company.

They say the telecommunications industry is a competitive one and major companies can only flourish by seeking the best customers in the biggest markets. An antiquated system could hold them back from higher profit margins.

Cell phone providers such as Sprint, T-mobile and even the divisions of AT&T and Verizon that carry cell service are not subject to universal service and are free to explore the areas they find profitable. People who rely on the universal service will be forced to use one of three options for their telecommunications needs, all of which entail some sort of newer piece of technology like a cell phone or computer as well as buying the internet or cell phone provider services from one of the major companies.

Should those who don’t use cell phone or internet services be forced to buy new equipment they don’t want? Are landlines a necessity anymore? Is this the end of the landline forever?


David Cay Johnston, Reuters Columnist; investigative journalist and author; Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting; Distinguished Visiting Lecturer, Syracuse University College of Law and Whitman School of Management