Landlines go mobile

Meranda Watling

University is considering switching to cell phone only connections

It’s been a while since freshman psychology major Tracy Ziehm used the phone in her residence hall. That’s because she doesn’t have one.

“I use my cell phone for everything,” she said. “I don’t even have a phone hooked up.”

Ziehm is one of many Kent State students opting to use cell phones instead of the phones provided in their residence halls.

At universities across the country, students like Ziehm are forcing administrators to re-evaluate whether landlines are necessary.

The Washington Post reported that some universities, including American University in Washington, Morrisville State College in New York and Marshall University in West Virginia, have already abandoned traditional phone services.

But Paul Albert, director of Information Services, said such a move is at least a few years off for Kent State.

“Even though more and more students bring cell phones, somehow we still have 60,000 calls going off-campus each month,” Albert said.

Sophomore nursing major Angela Miller agreed Kent State isn’t ready to abandon landlines.

“They use it a lot more than people think,” Miller said of the landlines. “I don’t think they should get rid of them. Not everyone has a cell phone. I know people who don’t have cell phones.”

Several years ago, Albert said, a survey was taken in which only 40 percent of students said they had cell phones. Although the number is higher now, not everyone has a cell phone.

“If it was getting closer to 100 percent and we could save money, we’d consider it,” Albert said.

Kent State is considering moving away from wired phone connections. The option the university is leaning toward would allow students with cell phones to use the campus wireless network while they are on campus. When students step foot off-campus, the university could hand that connection off to students’ providers. Albert said the technology is fairly new and needs work and more support from the providers before it could happen.

The key will be mobility.

“So you will have access no matter where you are,” Albert said. But that is at least three years away.

For now, there are other concerns that need to be addressed before the university can think of getting rid of landlines. Most importantly, both Albert and Manager of Telecommunications Bob Paschal agree, is getting 9-1-1 to work from cell phones.

“Right now, my take on it is, 9-1-1 doesn’t work properly on cell phones,” Paschal said.

Currently, if you dial 9-1-1 from your cell phone, it doesn’t necessarily go to the right place. The dispatcher has to transfer the call to the right center, which could be a problem if the caller is hurt, panicked or disoriented, Paschal said. If, however, you dial 9-1-1 from campus, it goes directly to the correct center and shows your address and room number.

“I don’t think we’re ready to put our student population in that danger,” Paschal said. “There’s just too many problems involved with that.”

While cell phone companies work to solve that problem, the university must also deal with the 10-year contract for the existing landline equipment, which began in 2000.

“We own the existing equipment, so we have to pay for it,” Albert said. “It certainly impacts how much savings we’d have.”

The cost of moving to a different system would probably balance out, Albert said, and it “may be a little more expensive or a little less.”

“We’d identify an old service to take out, when we put a service in,” he said.

Albert said the switch away from landlines will affect Kent State’s sense of community more than people realize.

“It used to be that you could look in the campus directory and get every phone number,” he said. “Cell phones usually tend to connect us to old friends at home. It keeps you in an off-campus mindset.”

In some ways, David Robinson, sophomore business management major, exemplifies that trend. He said he only knows one person who uses his room phone, and he usually borrows a friend’s cell phone instead.

“I’ve never used my (residence hall) phone,” Robinson said. “I don’t know anyone’s room number.”

Contact technology reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].