More high-speed Internet connections than land lines in Illinois for first time


SPRINGFIELD -- The use of traditional phone service has dropped to the point that broadband connections now exceed the number of landlines in Illinois.

Figures released on Monday by federal and state regulators showed that high-speed Internet connections outnumbered landlines in 2010 for the first time. Landline usage in the state dropped 31 percent from 2001 to 6.2 million, while the number of high-speed connections jumped from 423,000 to 6.4 million in that period.

Landlines have trailed mobile wireless connections since 2005. Illinois had about 11.6 million wireless subscribers last year.

 “We expect to see these same trends continue going forward,” said Jim Zolnierek, director of telecommunications for the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Not all high-speed connections are substitutes for traditional phone lines. But the accelerating shift from landline phones to wireless and Internet-based services was a major reason behind a rewrite last year of the state’s 26-year-old telecommunications act. Gov. Quinn signed the reforms into law last summer.

 In return for more regulatory freedom to set rates and invest in new technology, the major telecommunications carriers agreed to “safe harbor” packages of basic landline service that cannot increase in cost.

“The last figure we saw, a little over 20 percent of households (nationwide) are cell only,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board.

The consumer advocacy group lobbied for inclusion of the basic landline packages in the telecommunications rewrite.

“The ‘safe harbor’ packages are a very good deal for consumers,” said Kolata. “It’s the only place now where you can get a guaranteed price that’s pretty low and service quality standards that apply. The trick is letting people know.”

However, Kolata said he doubts that the reforms will live up to their promise of expanded high-speed Internet access in rural areas.

An ICC update to the Illinois General Assembly last fall said telecommunications markets are changing so quickly that it has become difficult to accurately track the number of POTS — plain old telephone service — customers year-to-year.

But the report said the pace of consumer switching from landlines to wireless and broadband will continue to pick up.

“The available data are consistent with observations that local telephone competition is … increasingly focused on offering bundled packages of voice phone, high-speed data and video services,” the report said.

Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536.

Wireless subscribers 2001-2010

* 2001: 5.6 million

* 2002: 6.5 million

* 2003: 7.2 million

* 2004: 8.1 million

* 2005: 8.2 million

* 2006: 9.6 million

* 2007: 10.3 million

* 2008: 10.9 million

* 2009: 11.5 million

* 2010: 11.6 million

High-speed connections 2001-2010

* 2001: 423,000

* 2002: 734,000

* 2003: 841,000

* 2004: 1.5 million

* 2005: 2.1 million

* 2006: 3.5 million

* 2007: 5 million

* 2008: 4.2 million

* 2009: 5.6 million

* 2010: 6.5 million

Retail landlines in Illinois, 2001-2010

*2001: 9.0 million

*2002: 8.7 million

* 2003: 8.3 million

* 2004: 8.1million

* 2005: 7.8 million

* 2006: 7.2 million

* 2007: 7.0 million

* 2008: 6.7 million

* 2009: 6.3 million

* 2010: 6.2 million

Sources: Federal Communications Commission/Illinois Commerce Commission