Landlines Are Inexplicably Awful


by Samuel Greengard

Several years ago, I signed up for digital phone service that Comcast had just introduced. It initially had a few bugs but it now works great. No complaints there. But why in the age of VoIP and computer-telephony integration does Comcast not support anything more than an analog phone?

I remember a nifty program called Hot Line that I used in the 1980s. It let you create a phone directory on your PC and click to dial the number with you modem. Fast forward 25 years and I'm back to constantly punching numbers into a phone.

Mobile phones dial by name or let you click a number at a website and skip the numerical input. So, why do Comcast and other cable phone providers still force customers to stick with 75-year-old technology? The question is even more confounding when you consider that the connection from the cable modem to the switch at the other end is shuffling internet protocol packets. Cable providers convert the signal to analog at the modem.

This isn't back to the future. It's way back to the past. Memo to Comcast: somewhere between 20 and 30 million people in the U.S. work at home at least one day each week.

Mobile phones have siphoned off subscribers from landline phones because they're way more convenient. Perhaps a way to compete is to make a landline more attractive by adding computer telephony integration and all sorts of cool bells and whistles?

I called Comcast. A rep explained that this feature simply isn't available. I called back and a second rep says that I should consider buying a device called MagicJack.

Fine, except that I don't want another phone service that costs more money and adds another layer of complexity to my calling. Even the company's Business Class Voice service comes up blank in this department. Imagine that.

It's no wonder that companies like Vonage and Skype have managed to gain such a strong foothold on the telephony market. It's no wonder that people are abandoning landlines as if they caused dysentery. It's really simple: if you don't innovate and you fall hopelessly behind the technology curve you lose.