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'Cutting the cord'

September 05, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Kristina Fox didn't bother getting a land-line phone connected when she moved to Hagerstown in May.

"I just feel it's more of a convenience to have a cell phone," she said.

The 37-year-old mother said she pays about $70 per month for a wireless plan that also includes a phone for her 16-year-old son.

"I drive a school bus in Montgomery County and I don't have any means of communicating with my son during the day (without a cell phone)," she said.

Fox represents a growing number of land-line customers who are "cutting the cord." It's a popular phrase used by those in the wireless industry to describe land-line customers who abandon their land lines for wireless phones, said Gerry Wilson, U.S. Cellular's director of sales and operations for the Tri-State area.

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Fox said convenience and safety are major reasons for the switch.

"A cell phone is better for my lifestyle," she said.

In addition to Fox, Wilson said many younger consumers never have had a land line, and at the speed wireless technology is developing, some never will.

"Twelve percent of Americans between 18 and 24 have already 'cut the cord,'" Wilson said.

April Toms, 22, of Hagerstown is a perfect example.

Toms said she shares an apartment with her boyfriend and neither have had land lines. Both are on the go and work full time. Toms said having a cell phone makes her feel safe.

"If I get a flat tire ... in emergencies, I can use it," she said.

Toms said she and her boyfriend often pay additional user fees when they exceed their monthly 1,000 limited daytime minutes.

"Sometimes, our bill runs $150 a month," she said.

That's more expensive than most monthly cell phone bills, which average $50 per month, according to a 2003 Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association industry survey. Despite costly overage fees, CTIA spokeswoman Erin McGee said wireless competition has reduced monthly package cost.

According to a Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association industry survey, new wireless subscribers in the United States increased by 18 million based on a semiannual survey taken in December 2003. In 2003, there were 158,721,981 estimated wireless subscribers, according to the association. There were 140,766,842 in December 2002.

The average rate for a land-line connection package for Maryland and West Virginia consumers is between $6 and $40, Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said. In 2000, Verizon had 4.1 million land lines in Maryland. As of June, the number of land-line subscribers had dropped to 3.8 million.

In response, Arnette said, Verizon is offering consumer packages that include a variety of services.

"Local phone service, long distance, high-speed Internet service and, in some areas, the wireless is included in a package," Arnette said.

Meanwhile, some consumers said they only maintain a land line for Internet dial-up connections. But that's not their only option - dial-up service is being challenged by broadband connections such as digital-subscriber lines and high-speed cable.

"By the end of 2004, over 50 percent of land-line minutes will be replaced by wireless," Wilson said.

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