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Using a cell phone as your home phone comes with a risk

Consumer Reports News: May 11, 2009 11:57 AM

The economic downturn is causing more households to pare down services to save money. You'd think one of those might be service to the family’s cell phones, but according to a new Center for Disease Control (CDC) study, it's often the landline that's getting the ax.

During the last half of 2008, 20 percent of U.S. households used only cell phones, compared with 17 percent of the households with landlines that had no cell phones.

It easy to see why people would prefer the mobility of a cell phone over a stodgy landline, especially since falling rates for unlimited minutes are actually making them the better bargain. And, as the Associated Press reports, cell phones users are less likely to be annoyed by pollsters because federal laws prohibit them from using computers to place calls to wireless phones.

But landline connections do have one important advantage over cells: They're safer. With emergency calls made over a landline, 911 operators know for certain the address and location of call. Not so with cell phones, which use much less-direct—and less-consistent—system for connecting with emergency responders.

Newer fiber phone service uses the same long-proven location system as a landline phone. But cable-phone and other VoIP 911 services depend on the provider supplying local emergency services with your address, a federal requirement. The agency also requires that new VoIP customers be informed that emergency service "may in some way be limited in comparison to traditional 911 service."

Our advice: Supplement your cell and/or VoIP service with basic landline service to use at least for 911 calls. Such service typically costs about $20 a month, including fees and the like.

In another safety-related cell-phone development, a train accident in Boston that occurred while the train operator was texting has renewed questions about the safety of texting while driving.  —Mike Gikas

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