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Floridians continue pulling plug on phone lines


Not that long ago, millions of Florida homes and businesses had landline phones.

But a new state report details the continued disappearance of what was a staple of life and how demand and competition have “exploded” for wireless and internet-based technology that most Floridians now use to make calls.

“These other modes are simply different technological evolutions of telephone service, much as connecting a call through an operator was replaced by direct dialing many decades ago,” the report by the Florida Public Service Commission said. “The additional capabilities available with these technologies have led the vast majority of residential consumers and businesses to make the transition to these modes.”

Consider: Florida hit a peak of about 12 million wirelines more than two decades ago. But the new report said that total was down to about 1.152 million in 2021, with only 428,431 residential wirelines.

In 2021, the number of residential residential wirelines dropped by 19.1%, while business wirelines declined 15.4%. That came after years of similar decreases.

As a comparison, Florida had 22.279 million wireless subscriptions as of the end of 2019, the latest figures available, according to the report. That equated to more than one wireless subscription for every Floridian at the time.

Also contributing to the shift away from landlines is what is known in the telecommunications world as voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, which allows calls to be made using digital technology over the internet. Providers of the services can include, for example, cable companies.

The Public Service Commission is required each year to submit a report by Aug. 1 to the Legislature about competition in the telecommunications industry. The new report concluded that wireless and internet-based services are meeting the needs of the state.

“Since reaching a peak in the year 2000, total traditional access lines have declined by over 90% in Florida, even as the population has grown significantly,” the 55-page report said. “Given the importance of telecommunications service and the large decline in traditional access lines, consumers must be finding service elsewhere.”

The telecommunications industry has gone through a massive transformation since the Bell system broke up in the 1980s. Florida lawmakers over the years took a series of steps, including largely deregulating the industry in the state. Lawmakers barred the Public Service Commission from regulating wireless, broadband and voice-over-internet-protocol services.

In a statement Tuesday about the new report, commission Chairman Andrew Fay said the “continued migration to wireless and alternative platforms is no surprise.”

“The telecommunications industry offers consumers ‘new and improved’ technology options on a regular basis,” Fay said. “This evolution of services continues to be beneficial for customers looking for specialized plans.”

Jim Saunders - News Service of Florida