Cutting the cord


What's the story with getting rid of your landline?

ARE telephone lines really necessary in an age when there are substantially more mobile phones than people in the country and a range of broadband services which deliver high speed internet access for a lot less than traditional providers can offer?

A fixed telephone will cost even the most casual user around €500 a year, over half of which goes on line rental alone. Add a fairly run-of-the-mill broadband package and the cost will jump to closer to €1,000 a year.

It is hardly any surprise that a growing number, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, with hundreds of bundled minutes and free calls from their mobile providers, have decided to disconnect their landlines.

Despite deregulation of the telecom sector and the presence of dozens of telephone providers here, Eircom remains the dominant player in the sector, not least because it still owns the infrastructure which the other operators must piggy-back on, with very few exceptions.

An EU Commission report published last month said some of the most important services offered by Eircom are “expensive and unreliable” and that its landline charge of €25 per month was the highest in the EU. Renting a residential line from Eircom is 66 per cent more expensive than the EU average of €15 a month, the report said.

By contrast, it found that mobile charges in Ireland were falling; the cost of a mobile phone call in Ireland was €0.11 per minute, significantly cheaper than the EU average of €0.23.

Immediately after the report was published, Dublin Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa called on the telecommunications watchdog ComReg to launch an “immediate investigation” into the cost of line rentals in Ireland.

Eircom has stoutly defended its pricing structure and claims that the costs of serving a dispersed population on its network is higher than in other EU countries. A spokesman said a better assessment of charges would take into account call charges from landlines as well as line rental charges, which would show Ireland was cheaper for residential and business calls than many other EU countries.

AND THAT MAYwell be true. But the fact remains that there is generation of people who have never known a world without mobile and regard landlines as weirdly anachronistic devices which their parents use.

Broadband too has been freed from the shackles of fixed-line operators; companies such as Clearwire and NTL are offering high-speed internet connections with no requirement for a landline. Mobile broadband is also becoming increasingly popular because of its flexibility, instant connections and its price.

Eircom’s broadband starter pack offers unlimited anytime local and national calls plus always-on broadband and line rental for €85 a month. Assuming a person who signs up to such a deal is also spending €50 on their mobile phones each month, the total cost of what is a fairly basic communications package is €135 each month.

Vodafone, meanwhile, is offering 200 bundled minutes as well as a choice of free Vodafone to Vodafone anytime calls or 100 free anytime landline minutes for €49, while its mobile broadband deal costs €19.99, taking the total monthly cost to €69, a saving of €66 on the landline/mobile alternative. Spread out over the course of a year, the saving is just shy of €800.

While mobile broadband has its limitations and is hardly ideal for downloading larger files, if all you use the web for is fairly light surfing and accessing e-mails then it is hard to fault. There may be a case to be made for landline phones from an emergency standpoint – they are always on, don’t depend on sometimes patchy network coverage and tracing calls made from them is much faster than tracking mobile calls in an emergency situation.

Such concerns don’t bother Martin Gleeson from Crumlin, who decided to abandon his landline a couple of months ago to cut down on his household spend. “It was a logical choice, it was hardly being used anymore. Most of the bill was line rental,” he says. The move has, he reckons, saved him about €40 a month. “Not a huge amount ..but I’m cutting out waste. Among other fat-trimming was downgrading my NTL TV to the basic package, from the hundreds-of-channels-I-don’t-watch package.”

Gleeson is also a big fan of Skype, the internet telephone system which he first used three years ago. “Why pay for calls if you can Skype for free? Next suburb over or the other side of the world. Plus the built-in camera on my iMac lets me video-call people. So, free Star Trek-style video calling versus old expensive phones . . . Skype, please.”

Peter Donegan runs a landscape gardening business based in North Co Dublin and made a decision when building his house not to get any landline connections installed. “It’s not like when I was growing up and every house had a landline phone but no mobile. I felt it was just another added cost . . . it was also pointless to have it if we were never there.”

HE DOESN’T REMOTELYfeel cut off without a landline and says people who need to contact him can use SMS, Twitter, his blog or e-mail, “and if its really urgent they’ll call me on the mobile”.

He does see a future for landlines in the business arena and would be reluctant to do business with a company “unless they had a landline – or I knew them very, very well. For business I feel they’re very important but domestically it’s a totally different story.”

Caroline Murphy from Limerick is another person who has got rid of her landline. “We dropped it due to money matters, I suppose; the bill always seemed huge with Eircom and the phone connection wasn’t great,” she says. “It was often breaking and Eircom might take up to two weeks to come to repair it. It seemed as if we were relying on the mobiles anyway.”

While her bi-monthly Eircom bills were often around €300, her Meteor mobile bills are no more than €80 a month. “The only reservation I had was my family and friends not living in Ireland being slower at phoning a mobile, but I find they will phone the same as before and I use mine as normal too. Really, the bills are not bad at all.”

Her Meteor pack gives her 400 minutes a month free to any landline or mobile in Ireland, and calls are free all weekend. The decision to dispense with the landline is, she says, a generational thing.

“There’s no way my dad, who is 70, would let the landline go.”