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Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: Have backup plans in place if your cellphone network goes dark.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

March 1, 2024

3 Min Read
Old school telephone
BACKUP PLAN: Don’t get rid of that landline yet. It could be your backup emergency plan when a cell network goes dark. code6d/Getty Images

Full confession: I don’t have a landline telephone in my house.

I haven’t had a landline home telephone for probably 20 years now. Instead, I have a personal cellphone and a work cellphone.

I must admit, though, that after the AT&T cellphone network outage on Feb. 22, I’m rethinking that strategy. Sure, it’s cheaper to not have that added bill each month. And I’m always available as long as my cellphones are in my pocket. But what would I do in case of an emergency if my cell company’s network suddenly went dark due to natural or cyberterrorist reasons?

A lot of people are asking themselves the same question this week around the U.S.

Cutting the cord

In June 2023, the Washington Post reported that 73% of American adults lived in a household without a landline at the end of 2022, according to data it found in the National Health Interview Survey from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Twenty years ago, the CDC’s reliance on phone surveys to help it track metrics about immunization, chronic conditions, health care use and more meant that any changes in telephone access could distort that data it was compiling and tracking. Hence, according to the Washington Post, NCHS started tracking who was cutting the cord.

Now, according to December 2022 statistics from NCHS:

  • Only 2% of adults lived in households with only landlines.

  • Nine in 10 adults, ages 25-29 and 30-34, were wireless only. As age increased above 35 years, that percentage dropped, with just 48% of those 65 and older living in a wireless-only household.

  • Eighty percent of Hispanic adults lived in wireless-only households, while 70% of non-Hispanic white households were wireless only.

  • Seventy-four percent of adults living in the Midwest and 76% of those in the West were wireless-only households.

  • Four in 5 adults living in rented homes were wireless-only households.

These figures aren’t really surprising. As someone who cut the cord 20 years ago, I save money by not having a landline phone gathering dust in my household. I avoid some — not all — telemarketer calls. And, I am reachable no matter where I roam — as long as there’s cellular service.

Even carriers are starting to reconsider if they want to offer copper-wire landline services, along with Voice Over internet Protocol (voIP) lines. For example, according to USA Today, AT&T is applying to the California Public Utilities Commission for a waiver of its responsibility as a “Carrier of Last Resort.” Meaning, it would stop offering copper-wire landline service. The technology is old, and demand is dropping.

But it’s the communications safety net for our nation. It is literally our last resort.

Safety net

Technology advancements are fine, but having access to the old ways when the technology breaks down is vital.

I listen to satellite radio and Spotify. But I know that there are plenty of my neighbors who still use their AM-FM radios for their news at the top and bottom of the hour.

I read and send emails every day. But I still rely on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver letters, packages and hard copy bills — and monthly issues of Kansas Farmer.

I am on my smartphone every day. But when a cellular network is down, whether due to a natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe, we need to have landlines available for emergency communication.

And I know that we ceded a lot of our public goods and services over to the private sector because of capitalism, but we need to pull back some. It is in the public interest to have access to landlines to communicate. Maybe even more in this intense cybersecurity nightmare that we’re all enjoying.

Look, friends, the telephone was allowed to replace the telegraph and Morse code. There are few people who have their own ham radios today. Even the old business band radios of my youth have been stored in the farmhouse attic.

I fear landlines are next. And I can’t believe, as a Gen X American, I’m actually saying this — we can’t afford to ever put all of our communication methods in one digital basket.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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