Watch CBS News

AT&T cell outage has some dreading possibility of end of landlines in Illinois

AT&T cellphone outage has some thinking about future of landlines
AT&T cellphone outage has some thinking about future of landlines 02:42

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Could Illinois soon hang up on the landline?

State legislation was passed to pave the way for providers like AT&T to end servicing traditional copper landlines.

But with a major cellphone outage last week impacting thousands of AT&T users, some are ringing the alarm on the future use of the landline.

Nearly three quarters of adults now live in households without a landline. As for the future, AT&T said they are in a multi-year process – working with customers who use traditional copper-based phone lines to upgrade to service the company calls faster, more reliable, and requiring less energy and maintenance.

To some, it may seem like yesterday when a landline phone would ring for the whole house, and your mom would pick up and then come upstairs to say, "It's for you" – followed to your annoyance by, "I don't know," when you asked who it was.

But today's teenagers have had no such experience – and some kids have no familiarity with landline phones at all.

But landline phones are still out there. And Pat Pereira, who lives in a rural area where cellphone service can be spotty, says her landline is her lifeline.

"I'm not exactly a helpless 80-year-old," said Pereira, "but I deserve to have a phone that works."

On Thursday of last week, more than 50,000 AT&T customers lost service in a widespread outage. The company attributed the outage to a software bug.

"The outage last week of cellular service is a perfect example of why some people really like the reliability of landline phones," said Jim Chilsen, director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board.

For many, the outage was a minor inconvenience. But AT&T also operates First Net – a communication network used by some first responders. It went down too.

"We can't transmit," said Southfield, Michigan Deputy Police Chief Jeff Jagielski. "We can't receive certain messages."

The outage was fixed within the day. But it has renewed calls on utility companies from watchdog groups like the Citizens Utility Board.

"Some of Illinois' most vulnerable phone customers depend on the reliability of landlines, and we should protect that service for those customers," said Chilsen.

In 2017, a controversial bill passed in Springfield that opens the door for AT&T to end copper landline service in Illinois – pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

AT&T spokesperson Phil Hayes said in a statement in part:

"No customer will be left without voice or 911 service. With the vast array of options offering greater functionality and reliability, millions of customers have long ago chosen modern, high-speed internet and wireless over outdated telephone service."

For those people still using traditional landlines, AT&T said they will continue providing their existing voice service as long as needed.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.