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3/7/2006. AT&T to merge with Bell South.
Adam Rountree  /  Gamma Press file
Are you sure you want to just rely on your cell phone?
By Herb Weisbaum
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/21/2006 2:50:27 PM ET 2006-03-21T19:50:27

More and more people are dropping their home, land-based phone lines and going with just their cell phones. But is this really the smart thing to do?

So many people these days only use a cell phone and have dropped their land line. Can you list some of the pros and cons of doing this?
Pete J.

Getting rid of your land line will definitely save you money. I know a number of people who’ve pulled the plug. They like the idea of having one number where they can always be reached and having the ability to make free long-distance calls (a common feature with many cell plans). And with wireless service you don’t have to pay extra for voicemail or caller ID.

So why do I still have my land line? I like the security a land line gives me in case of an emergency, such as a power outage, plus it's easier for rescue crews to find me in the event of an emergency. And I always keep a non-cordless phone in the house in case of a power outage. Also, we don’t get very good wireless reception where I live, I won’t misplace my desk and wall phones as I sometimes do with my cell phone, I never have to worry about the battery being charged.

The most important factor to consider when deciding whether to keep your land line is the different ways your local 911 center processes land line vs. wireless calls. With a land line phone, the 911 dispatch center gets the caller’s physical address – 123 Main Street. With a wireless phone, they get latitude and longitude information from the cell carrier. That data is converted into the caller’s approximate location. According to FCC regulations, that means “accurate within 50 – 300 meters (depending on the type of technology used)." The commission says a number carriers have requested --and been granted -- waivers regarding these rules.

You can read more about 911 Wireless Services at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/wireless911srvc.html.

Steve Marzolf, president of the National Association of State 911 Administrators says there’s no question cell phones “are much more imprecise than land lines."

Imagine a person calling from the 20th floor of an apartment building, he says. A land line call to 911 will display the physical address and the apartment number. A cell phone call will not. “So even if we nail your location,” Marzolf explains, “we don’t know what floor you are on. That’s a real problem if you’re having a heart attack and we need to find you in a hurry."

Other things the 911 administrators say you should consider:

  • Only 58 percent of the emergency dispatch centers in the U.S. have the technology to determine the location of cell phone calls.
  • If the operator loses a cell phone connection it’s often harder to reestablish contact.
  • Some cell companies use GPS circuitry built into the phone to locate callers. These GPS-based phones don’t always work indoors because they can’t “see” the satellites.

Bob Oenning, who runs the 911 system in Washington State, says he’s not ready to get rid of his land line yet. When asked why, he put it this way, “911 has to work the first time every time. You can’t quite say that with wireless yet, despite the enormous effort made by the wireless industry."

Some people today are giving up their land lines to make phone calls over the Internet. Oenning says as far as 911 calls go, VOIP “is not perfect yet,” but in general, he says,  “it works pretty well for fixed applications” – where you are making that VOIP call from your home computer.

I got a free phone when I signed up for my cell service.  About a week later I started having trouble with the phone. It was breaking up every five seconds and the static on it was ridiculous.  The dealer told me to return the phone and BUY a new one!!  I had to call them every day for a month before I was finally able to get them to send me a new phone.  That means I paid for a month’s service I was basically unable to use!! Is that right?
J
amie, Olive Branch, MS

This is just absurd. Clearly this company has a serious problem with customer service. You had every right to expect your new cell phone to work properly, and the fact that it was free doesn’t make any difference.

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Legally, the written warranty you received applies in this case. It says what the phone company is responsible to do for you. But I think you press them to compensate you for the month of unusable cell service – either a credit or extension of the service agreement.

Here’s what to do. Write the company a letter. State your case – politely, but firmly – and request that credit or service extension. You can let them know that if you don’t hear back in two weeks, you are going to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. You can do that on line at www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html. An FCC “Consumer Assistance and Mediation Specialist” will actually contact the company on your behalf. From past experience I can tell you this often works to get the situation resolved in the consumer’s favor.

I was at a major electronics store looking to buy a 42" Philips plasma TV. The salesman told me the manufacturer's warranty would become invalid if I mounted the TV on the wall myself.  If I wanted any protection, he said, I had to use their store’s warranty plan.  I'd never heard of such a thing - especially since just about all flat screen TVs end up being mounted.  Any truth to this, or was it a sleazy sales tactic?
Scott S., Mukilteo, WA

Absolutely ridiculous! The information you were told is just flat-out wrong. I checked with Philips and the company sent me the following statement:

All of Phillips’ 42” FlatTVs are designed to be mounted using any VESA compliant mount, ensuring the product warranty extends to units that are mounted post purchase. These mounts can be found at most major electronic retail locations. Using the mount in no way voids the warranty or damages the television unit.

Sounds like you were dealing with a salesperson a little too eager to sell you that extended warranty. At many stores the sales staff are under a lot of pressure to push these service contracts –  they’re a big profit item for the retailer and the employee can earn a sizeable commission on each sale.

We recently replaced our 35-year-old home furnace with a new 93-percent efficient gas furnace. It cost $1,500 more than the standard furnace but the claims of saving money on our utility bills made the offer attractive. We got quite a shock when the electric bill came – this energy-efficient furnace drove our electric consumption up 20 percent! That more than offset the savings on our gas bill. What’s going on here?
Douglas P., Marlborough, Mass.

I’m going to assume that you’re not keeping the house any warmer than before.  Even so, there are a number of reasons why the new system uses more electricity, such as:

  • Other equipment was installed, such as an air cleaner or humidifier.
  • The system was set in the continuous fan mode rather than the automatic fan mode.
  • Your thermostat is now set to operate differently.
  • Your new furnace is larger than the old one.

When I asked the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (www.gamanet.org) about your situation, I was surprised to learn that the AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating used to compare models does not directly factor in electrical usage. According to Chuck Murray at the Washington State University Energy Extension Service (www.energy.wsu.edu) the efficiency of those motors can vary greatly. “A high-efficiency motor might use 300 kw/hr a year,” Murray says, “while a low-efficiency motor could use 1,200 kw/hr a year.” That’s quite a difference.

If it makes you feel any better, your new furnace is probably 40 percent more efficient than the old one you replaced, which means it will burn less gas for the same amount of heat. I think it’s a safe assumption that natural gas prices will keep heading up in the years ahead. Also, your new furnace puts a lot less pollution into the air.

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