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Disconnected land lines will no longer be able to make 911 calls

California residents who have disconnected their telephone services have about 90 days before they will no longer be able to call 911 using their home phone line.

The use of disconnected land lines to call 911 was put into place in California in 1995 to allow people to still access emergency services after losing their phone service, according to the California Public Utilities Code. While there were only a small number of these unused lines at the time, that number has grown to an estimated 2 million disconnected telephone lines in California as more people switch to wireless phones or Internet voice services.

California legislation passed last year to eliminate of the ability to use disconnected land lines to contact emergency services went into effect Jan. 1. Verizon, Barstow’s local phone service provider, notified customers in February that they would be disconnecting service within 90 days.

Providers don’t keep track of the actual usage of the disconnected lines, so an estimate of the number of people who use the phone lines to call emergency services is unavailable, said Les Kumagai, spokesman for Verizon.

Although many people now own cell phones, there are people living on fixed incomes who may not be able to afford cell phones or voice services provided through the Internet. A program offered by the California Public Utilities Commission allows people living on a fixed income to have unlimited local phone calls for a fraction of the price of regular phone service. The CPUC funds the program — known as California LifeLine — with a user surcharge previously established through federal legislation.

The variety of choices that consumers have today may have led to the elimination of the disconnected lines, but Kumagai encourages people who may qualify for LifeLine to apply for it. He said one of the advantages to having a land line phone is that “reverse 911” phone calls go out to land line customers with a listed number in the case of an emergency.

During the perchlorate contamination of Barstow’s water last November, reverse 911 phone calls were sent out to customers warning them not to drink or cook with tap water.

Customers who only have wireless phones can also have text messages sent directly to their phones in the case of an emergency, said Kumagai. San Bernardino County has this service available at

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4122 or


California LifeLine information

• People enrolled in public-assistance programs (such as Medicaid or food stamps) are eligible.

• Income restrictions: $24,000 for 1-2 family members, $28,200 for 3, $34,000 for 4, and an additional $5,800 for each additional family member.

• Consumer must complete application through phone company.

• Flat rate for unlimited local calling is the lower of $5.47-$6.84 or half of the carrier’s flat rate local phone service.

• For more information on LifeLine, call 1 (866) 272-0349 or visit

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