/ Technology

Why pay for line rental when you only use broadband?

Phone line cut

Why should we have to pay for a service we’re not using? It seems a little unfair to say the least, and for many, a landline phone falls into this category. If you only use broadband, why must you pay for line rental?

The landline is dead. Even if you don’t quite believe that, you have to admit it’s definitely on the wane. Not only are 15% of households mobile-only, many of the others probably only have a landline for their broadband connection. And that’s despite them hardly ever picking up the phone (maybe to the odd nuisance call!)

In my house of five we have a landline that comes with our broadband bundle, but I honestly can’t remember the last time anyone actually used it to make a call. On the rare occasion it rings, no-one bothers to pick it up as we know it’ll likely be a marketing attack. So why do we have to pay for it?

What if you have fibre optic broadband?

Up until now broadband providers could use the excuse that you need the phone line for the broadband to run down. But there’s a gaping hole in this argument if you have fibre broadband, rather than you’re old-school ADSL copper line.

Which? Convo’s very own Patrick Steen was recently offered an upgrade to fibre optic broadband by BT, still the largest broadband provider in the UK. He started to ask some probing questions. Did a new line need to be installed for fibre optic broadband? BT’s call handler answered ‘yes’. When he asked whether this meant his phone calls would go through this new line, they needed to do some checking. Eventually (apparently it’s not a common question) they said ‘no – all phone calls would go through the existing copper line’.

Patrick then explained that he wouldn’t be making any calls and would only be using the broadband. That meant he would be paying line rental for a copper line he wouldn’t be using in order to use broadband on his fibre optic line. When he asked why he should have to pay line rental, BT’s call handler replied with ‘that’s just how it works – we have to charge line rental’.

I don’t want to pick on BT. This argument would apply to any broadband provider in the same situation. You have to pay for line rental if you want broadband, whether it’s a copper line or a fibre optic one.

The way we use our landlines and make our calls has changed beyond recognition in the past decade – so perhaps the way line rental is charged for broadband should change too? And, in some cases, maybe the charge should be dropped altogether.


According to Virgin Media, for their broadband only package (fibre optic), they say “you don’t need a phone line to get our broadband…” . If you have a phone line but no phone account, you don’t pay rental to BT – or any other provider, do you. If you use Skype for example you can call landlines without going through the copper. So unless BT monopolise the distribution of fibre optic lines only on condition you pay an extra charge for an (unwanted) copper line, then I don’t see how this works. I’d be interested to hear more.

Your assertion that “the landline is dead”, based on 15% of households being mobile only, seems to be stretching a fact rather far to support your case, doesn’t it. All those friends and colleagues I speak to have landlines with phones attached, that they pick up when I ring them – even my tech-savvy kids, who use mobiles a lot. I also use a mobile, but not as a rule.

Sure, Virgin Media will sell you a fibre internet service without a phone line… they just charge you more for the privilege! No, really, they do!

I’ve been a VM subscriber for years, and it still winds me up that I am paying for a service that I never use.

Chris says:
20 March 2013

I always asked myself this, why do i pay for a phone line i dont use, its true Virgin does not need a phone line for fibre or any other broadband product they sell. They just make you pay for the phone line to pocket themselves more money, yeh you can get it without a phone but you look at the price difference you will see it will cost you more, dont know how it works but they obviously are thick why should it cost more for something you dont need or want.

I was with Virgin for about 3 years and disconnected my services last month due to the downtime in my area, it was down 75% of the time over the last 12 months then thought enough was enough, they cut my phone line but still had the cheek to bill me for it on my bill, they also wanted £63.99 for the month i used then wanted 30 days notice another £63.99 when i cancelled due to there issues and they said i could without panalty

£127.98 worth of bills strikes a penalty in my opinion

Changed to sky got myself the same package i was on with Virgin and saving myself £17.90 a month so just shows what cash whores Virgin is, if you want my opinion stay away from them

If you only have Virgin cable broadband (not fibre) then you don’t have to pay for a phone line.

In general, the quality of the cable service from Virgin depends very much on who installed the original cables. I live in the old Yorkshire Cable area and according to my SamKnows box my 30Mbps line hasn’t dropped below 30Mps in the last 3 months and averages over 31Mbps and frequently runs at 32Mbps. Nice. Other Virgin areas can be very different. Bristol in particular has a lousy reputation on the Virgin forums.

The fact that I have to pay for line rental when I don’t even have a telephone plugged into my landline frustrates me no end. The kick in the teeth is that they put the prices up recently by £2.50 a month, sigh.

Maybe the line rental pays for a service, such as providing a broadband connection. Do you want your water, electricity and gas free too? 🙂

A bit of an odd argument wavechange. After all, I imagine with Virgin you only pay for your internet and not an additional charge for using their cables in the ground?

Incidentally, I do not use the free evening and weekend calls so no doubt save them money as a result.

Sorry, I did not realise that broadband and line rental were separate.

Chris says:
20 March 2013

You miss the point of this, people are saying why pay for something which isnt needed for what they want to use.

Gas & Electric and Water is essential to daily life, so a phone line and the essentials you said we want for free has nothing to do with each other.

‘The landline is dead.’ I don’t think so.

I have not counted but there are probably more complaints about mobile service providers on Which? Conversation than anything else.

I know that companies that provide landline phone and broadband services are not perfect but they are not in the same league as the mobile providers.

The landline is dead. Cobblers.

I get my broadband via cable and my landline is used regularly. I only know a handful of mobile only households and I don’t give my mobile number to anyone.

I don’t know of any mobile only households. Certainly mobile coverage where I live is nowhere near reliable enough.

As I’ve said before calling 999 from a landline can save valuable seconds as the location of the ‘phone appears on the operator’s screen.

Chris says:
21 December 2012

No one calls a house, they call a person. I have no landline, haven’t had one for a couple of years, and never noticed it missing. One thing i dont get (apart from line rental bills) is unsolicited calls in the evening. Not sure why you’d want a landline, and they can spot where you are on a 999 call to within a reasonable distance.

My broadband is with Virgin Media & i just pay for the broadband, no line rental since i cut the voice piece.

Landlines will die within a few short years, its a relic of analogue technology. Digital brings us buttons on mobile deveices that will call ambulances, mobiles that can pinpoint you with gps, skype for “free” calls to the world & text messages from banks. Theres no going back.

Had a mobile to mobile chat with my girlfriend earlier this evening. As is not unusual it was a frustrating experience with the signal breaking up and continually cutting out altogether. There’s no way mobiles will totally replace landlines whilst the coverage is so patchy and unreliable. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s automatically superior (see DAB radio for another example).

If my experience is anything to go by mobile phones aren’t free from unsolicited calls or spam texts either.

We have a landline because we cannot get a mobile phone signal in our house! Mobiles are only used when we are out

Dicky says:
15 March 2013

I am a 999 operator and I can assure you that the location of a mobile call on the 9’s is not that accurate, as it is triangulated between masts and is not GPS as most people think. It puts you in a square mile radius at the best!

It’s time that they looked at upgrading the service to interrogate the mobile for location. Most modern smartphones have full GPS, those that don’t triangulate themselves quite accurately (in most areas). If enabled, Google and Facebook will track your location automatically. The information is there.

Mountain Rescue services do use the “My location” data on a smartphone without the need for the user to do anything.

I’m pleased to hear it. It must make a big difference to how quickly you can plan and execute a rescue. I’m surprised that the 999 service doesn’t use the data when its available.

PatrickG says:
20 December 2012

I Agree! We don’t use our land line any more and we have BT Infinity broadband.
House hold of 4 and all have mobiles. Plus we use Skype and Facetime.
The pricing of broadband does not show that you need to add on the price of line rental. So the advertised prices are therefore wrong and make comparison across companies difficult.
There should be a price they advertise for Broadband only.

So people who call you have to have a mobile phone contract, pay high call charges to call you, or have a more expensive landline tariff. Spare a thought for others and plug in a phone, even if you only use it for incoming calls.

Casey says:
22 December 2012

Not to p*ss on the author of this articles parade or anything but the line rental is still necessary if you use BT Infinity.

Infinity uses FTTC, the remainder of the connection is routed over your existing copper lines. hence you require a regular phoneline to utilise Infinity, hence the line rental charge.

Kess says:
30 June 2014

That’s like suggesting people should only move to an area that is within cheap easy reach of their friends and family so it’s not expensive for friends and family to come and visit.
That’s life. You can always swap calling like you do with visiting. The only person I allow to have our landline number is a relative abroad however we both use calling cards so it’s not like we can’t call each other’s mobiles and she in fact uses her calling card to call my landline because in a convent they do not allow personal calls unless though a calling card.
Most people with pay as you go now have inclusive minutes and where they don’t, those on phone contracts can call the payg back.
For those younger people between parents homes/uni/work this is a common practice.
In fact my sister’s dad couldn’t afford a landline some 10 years ago and my younger sister only had payg mobile so I always called her back after she text to say *phone me*
My mother in law does not need nor want the internet in her sheltered accommodation so has no landline. She calls from a pay as you go and it costs her the same to call our mobiles than our landline.
Many people will not have access to a landline due to their accommodation circumstances. Also If a person is out 90 per cent of their day would it not make sense to have people call on your mobile? If my mother is law can so can others.
I wouldn’t assume anything about anyone being able to call this posters landline nor anyone elses.
If you want to keep in touch there are plenty of ways to do so.

Why do we pay line rentals anyway? We paid to get connected and we pay for the calls! Line rentals and standing charges are an outdated idea and should be abolished. Supermarkets charge for delivery but not when the don’t. So phone, internet, gas and electricity should be the same. Rip off charges should be a thing of the past.

Your supermarket doesn’t have to call at your house to not make a delivery so it doesn’t cost them anything, but the phone, internet, gas and electricity providers do have to maintain the cables and pipes, whether you use them or not. The line rental and standing charge is to cover the provision and maintenance of the infrastructure for the system so that you can use it and the usage charge is for precisely that.

Katey D says:
20 December 2012

We are acouple of pensioners who only use PAYG mobiles for emergencies. I’m quite sure most of our generation would not want to give up landlines.
We had Broadband, TV and Phone from Virgin. Virgin have just anounced above inflation price rises so we decided to dump their TV. I rang to say I only wanted Telephone and BBand. I was told that if I took the minimum TV package it would be cheaper. “”You mean, if you supply TV to us and we never ever watch it it’s cheaper?” “Yes, that’s right, because we can then offer you a cheap ‘package’ as you have been with us for years.” Honestly, the world has gone mad!!

(They did offer a £120 a year line rental if I paid up front so that saved us £40 or so. )

Cully8 says:
20 December 2012

I never use the landline provided by Virgin, but when I requested it to be removed I was informed that it was ‘ part of the package’ ! Why do we have to pay for something we don’t use anyway? they sound as if they are reading from a script, are there no providers with the guts to break this silly situation?
Its the same old story ‘ Rip off the British ‘ !

You require a share of the exchange equipment and maintenance of your connection, plus renewing equipment, which costs money. This cost for the equipment applies equally to all users – it is provided for your convenience to give you a connection. If you abolish the fixed rental, and put the cost on call charges, then low users will be subsidised by others.

The same argument applies to your energy supply – there are capital costs and maintenance costs on the equipment required to get energy to your home, plus administration costs, whether you use a lot of, or a little, energy.

Other suppliers – mobile phones for example – offer pay as you go with no minimum charge, or contracts with a fixed cost and inclusive calls.

A question is whether you think low users should be subsidised by higher users.

Agree Malcolm, excluding cable and fibre the line rental effectively pays for the copper to the exchange and some of the exchange costs thats why its called “line rental” rather than phone rental.
Of course the requirement for a BTw phoneline could be done away with but I suspect a charge for the connection would then be added and this would be little difference from the present line rental charge. Provision of phone services I suspect is very low cost , look at what the bundled packages cost.

And don’t forget the DIVIDENDS to the shareholders all over the world.

Cully B – according to Virgin, they offer a fibre optic broadband-only package with no requirement for a (copper) landline if you don’t use a conventional phone. But of course if you are not on fibre, then you need the copper line for broadband that is also your normal phone line – and it will need to be paid for.

The alternative to having a line rental charge would probably turn out to be a multi tier tariff, so that Telecomms companies earn enough from the low usage customers to warrant providing the service. This is what Which? doesn’t like about the power utilities.

There are issues with the complexity of phone companies’ tariffs, my BT phone bill is significantly more complicated than those of any of my power suppliers. When I looked into Talk Talk that didn’t seem any simpler.

keatss says:
21 December 2012

I prefer having both in spite of the irritating unsolicited calls because I can limit who I give my mobile number to and still receive calls from those who wish to use their landline. This may be important also for people who have “pay as you go” contracts and do not wish to make lengthy calls via mobile networks.

This is a bit of a pointless argument. BT Infinity Broadband is not fibre to your house, it’s fibre to a big green box somewhere on the pavement fairly near you – then the same piece of copper (or if you are really unlucky, aluminium) to your house. So you have to have the copper line and you pay a line rental for it – up to you if you use it for anything other than the broadband. With Virgin the fibre line carries broadband, and TV, and voice calls – again, it’s your decision whether or not to use the TV and/or voice.
As for going mobile only, you seriously expect me to pay for the privilege of calling 0800 numbers?

“Why should we have to pay for a service we’re not using?”

I expect that if Which? reduced its quarterly direct debit if I did not use their Conversation board I would be tempted to save money. In fact when are we going to get rid of the paper Which? magazines. I can read it online so why should I being subsidising others who prefer a print copy?

Perhaps Which? has made a commercial decision. I am disadvantaged by it. Is it therefore wrong?

BTW relying on mobile phones totally is perhaps useful if you are moving frequently, or share a house where bill-paying has to be arranged. This maybe the case for the article writer. It is quite possible that there is a direct correlation and that there is a floating population in the UK of around 15%.

In any event I believe in redundancy of systems so an alternative telephony system with a landline fits my philosophy. Only last week I noted a school was barred to its teachers because the entrance doors were electronic and there was a power cut. You have to wonder at the blind faith of people in not considering knock-on effects.

Broadband via DSL (copper) without phone line rental is called “naked DSL”, apparently.
Our cousins over the pond (States and Oz) have had it for years, not viable in UK as reports/polls suggest us Brits aint interested in this option……apparently!!
I for one would opt for this if it was available…………..

As much as we hate to pay for something we don’t use, in reality most of us do use the line as we have broadband. The copper from the home to the BT street side cabinet has to be used and maintained. It is part of the infrastructure, just like electric cabling and gas piping which you pay regardless of the amount of gas or electricity you use. Even if you don’t use the line for voice calls, it is still carrying your broadband signal to the street side cabinet.

Those of you that have fibre all the way to your home – such as some Virgin high speed internet users – don’t need to pay for line rental because you don’t use any BT copper cabling.

catherine, 85% of households presumbly have a landline – far more significant than those that don’t. And even if you don’t use it for calls, just broadband, the line and equipment associated with it has to be maintained.

The stats claim that 15% of homes are mobile only. I expect that before the arrival of mobiles MORE THAN 15% of homes had no phone at all.

A fair point. In 1999 Oftel put the figure at 5%, mainly low income or people in short term accommodation such as students. I wonder how many of the 15% mobile only come into the same categories.

We have broadband via a microwave link, which mainly works very well. We also have a landline phone as do all our family and friends, although we all have mobile phones for emergencies/when not at home.
Our BT package means we get free calls to all 01,02 & 03 numbers, and also 0845. This package works out much cheaper for us than any mobile contract.
We don’t know anyone who only has a mobile.

John Cooper says:
21 December 2012

It was with some trepidation that I looked at doing away with my Sky landline/calls/broadband package which was costing me around £32 per month. I never make calls on my landline as I use my mobile, although I do receive numerous nuisance calls. I looked at the speed that I was getting for my broadband and discovered it was around 1mps. To start with I bought a dongle on a 3 month package that supported just my computer and found that I was getting 5 bars and what seemed to be a much quicker download speed. I have now switched to a mobile router that supports 5 devices and costs (with a download limit of 5Gb) £15/month. I now have a better service, costing less (saving around £200 pa) and no nuisance calls.