Only days after casually tossing off an editor’s letter in which I noted that consumers had moved on from expecting their landline telephone service to also be a lifeline, I discovered this wasn’t entirely true.
For my sister and her family, living in Houston, a working home phone has been a lifeline. It has enabled them to contact family members and assure them that all was well. The phone line let my sister contact me and through me, access her email to notify work colleagues around the country that she wouldn’t be available for a while.
And when the days stretched on with no sign of commercial power coming back, the phone line was my sister’s way of reaching out for help. How else would I have known that mail service in Houston was working even when the power wasn’t? The 12-pack of “D” batteries I sent via overnight mail comes in handy when the power’s still off and the stores aren’t restocked yet.
Of course, not everyone in Houston has working phones, despite AT&T’s efforts to get generators and fresh batteries out to their remote terminals and other sites, but for those that did, the landline phone was a lifeline.
Is it reason enough to keep a home phone, and not rely simply on a wireless service? Probably not for everyone. Power outages that last for days or weeks are still pretty rare.
But the Houston experience shows that we can’t be too casual in cutting the lifeline that landline phones do often provide, at least not until there’s something to replace it, like small, inexpensive generators for recharging cellphones.