Not something that happens
But the way something happens
-- Charles Ives,
Essays Before a Sonata

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In praise of POTS (plain old telephone service)

Our family was touched by the tornado outbreak that struck Alabama on April 27, 2011. Though none of our family members suffered a direct hit from a tornado, straight line winds caused severe damage away from the tornado's path. In Jasper, the storm felled a massive tree that had been standing since at least the 1940s at the farm where my 92 year old grandmother lives.

As a consequence of the storm, much of northern Alabama lost power for an extended period. In my grandmother's case, there was no power from Wednesday until Sunday. However, the phone still worked, because it was "plain old telephone service" (POTS). For a 92 year old person who needs assistance to live at home, the phone is a lifeline. Had the phone failed, she would have been in a difficult position, because she would not be able to drive or walk for help.

Sometimes the older way is better. Cell phones, Skype, and voice over IP are wonderful inventions, and I could not imagine life without them. It's tempting to get rid of the landline phone so that there's one less bill to pay. But natural disasters and massive power failures do happen, and these newer technologies require electricity. And even what passes for a landline phone today may not be as robust as my grandmother's. I get my landline service (and internet and cable) from Verizon FiOS, which uses a converter box plugged into the wall to transmit data over the phone lines. There is a battery backup, but it lasts only about 8 hours.

(Photo: Volunteer workers from the Southern Baptist Convention clear the downed tree.)