Landline phones: Is it time to cut the cord?

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AT&T is seeking approval from the federal government to start experiments in Florida and Alabama that could set in motion the end of the traditional landline phone.

Telecom companies say the transition to Internet-based phone service is in full swing, and argue it’s time to bring down the lines that have criss-crossed the nation since the early days of the telephone.

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“Most of it has already happened,” Hank Hultquist, AT&T’s vice president of federal regulatory affairs, said during a press event Friday. “The transition is happening, what we really have to figure out is how to finish it.”

AT&T is seeking permission to accelerate the switch to digital technology in two states where the task will be most difficult.

In Alabama, the challenge is geography, since many of the state’s residents live in sparsely populated rural areas. In Florida, the hurdle is demographics, as the state’s large population of seniors is likely to resist giving up the technology that they’ve used their whole lives.

“We picked these places because they’re hard,” said Christopher Heimann, an attorney for AT&T. “The only way we’re actually going to learn something is if we go to places where there are challenges.”

The company has filed a proposal with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct the trials in Carbon Hill, Ala., and West Delray Beach, Fla.

The proposal comes after the FCC voted earlier this year to allow phone companies to seek approval for such experiments. Phone companies — led by AT&T — had lobbied on the commission to allow the trials, claiming that the switch would allow the industry to innovate.

If the FCC approves the proposed the two test runs — which the company hopes will happen by May or June — AT&T will have to seek approval from the agency when it wants to implement the next two stages of the experiment.

In stage one, AT&T would only offer Internet-based services to new subscribers. Then in phase two, the company would require that remaining customers switch from the old service.

For now, AT&T said it would begin the trial process in the two states by launching outreach and education efforts to persuade subscribers to voluntarily switch over to Internet-based technology.

Through promotional materials and events, the company will “explain the values, explain the trials and hopefully get the vast majority of customers to make the transition,” Hultquist said.

The old technology “is like an anchor” for phone services, Hultquist said.

“When we get that out of the equation and we’re all IP, the capabilities are tremendous.”