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Why do Vermonters Love Landlines?


Published March 11, 2009 at 5:01 p.m.

Just got the latest Vermont Business Magazine e-newsletter (which, by the way, I love!), and it had a link to a report that Vermont has the lowest rate of wireless-only households in the country.

Just 5.1 percent of Vermont households were wireless-only in 2007. Compare that with Oklahoma, where 26.2 percent of households are wireless only. The national average is 17.5 percent.

Why the gap?

Obviously the lack of cellphone coverage in the state is an issue. Last spring, I spoke with the owner of a mobile social networking site — he lives in Vermont, though his company is based elsewhere — and he has to leave his house and walk to the end of his driveway to get reception on his cellphone. And it's not like the guy lives in the middle of nowhere.

But other mountainous and rural states, where you'd think cellphone use would be lower, are leading the pack with wireless-only households — more than 20 percent of the households in Idaho, Utah and Arkansas have ditched their landlines.

Vermont's proud Luddite faction might also have something to do with our low wireless-only rate. There are plenty of people here who still resist the incursion of technology into their lives.

And our NIMBY backlash against cellphone towers probably relates. Ditto our low number of immigrants — I'd guess that states with a higher immigrant population probably have a higher number of wireless-only households, for a variety of reasons (i.e. cost, mobility, wide adoption of cellphone technology outside the U.S.)

But I suspect that there's another issue here. I can't prove this, but I wonder if some Vermonters don't want to abandon their landlines because they don't want to be taken out of the phone book.

It sounds quaint, but honestly, that's the main reason I don't want to get rid of my landline. I've been seriously debating it for several months now. In fact, I no longer have a cellphone because I can't afford both. Like it or not, there's no cellphone number directory. Which means that if I want people to be able to find me — people who don't use computers, anyway — I need to maintain a listed landline. Giving that up makes me feel as if I'm opting out of the community somehow. It feels wrong.

Several years ago, I remember reading that 93 percent of Vermonters still had listed numbers, so maybe I'm not alone.

I will never forget the time in 2004 when I was reporting a story about racist housing covenants in Vermont. I wanted to talk with the most prominent person in the state who had wrestled with the issue — then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He owned a summer home in Greensboro.

In the article, I described the history of the anti-Semetic clause in the deed for Rehnquist's summer home. Here's the relevant paragraph:

Reached at his summer home, the Chief Justice claims he knew nothingabout any of this when he bought the place — apparently he didn't readthe fine print. When did the nation's leading legal arbiter first hearabout the anti-Semitic clause in his deed? "I think probably during myconfirmation in 1986," says the 79-year-old Rehnquist.

Yep, Rehnquist was listed in the phone book. He picked up when I called and answered my questions. I couldn't believe it.

But Rehnquist is dead now — he died in 2005 — and it seems that residential landlines and phone directories are not far behind.

I realize that this sounds sentimental, and I'm resigned to the fact that I will probably be giving up my landline in the near future. But when the phone book becomes totally useless, I'll miss it.

What do you think? Am I the only one nostalgic for the landline?