/ 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.

James Brenton says:
21 December 2012

This is an important issue as the line rental is being used as an stealth charge for a service that many individuals no longer want. Pricing should be transparent: broadband or phone or broadband+phone. At present broadband only offers are being inflated by an additional charge. This is analogous to large credit card fees for purchasing airline tickets. However, none of the telecoms providers want to lose the monthly revenue for a service that is becoming obsolete (and they are all planning to move your voice account to voice over IP in any event). The recent price increases for line rental just indicate what an important cash cow it is.

How is the service being made obsolete with the introduction of VOIP? No mater whether your service is delivered by copper, fibre or a combination of both, it remains a land-line and has to be paid for.

Ultimately a land-line telecom service is more reliable, secure and provides a source of income for the criminal classes. [ I’m referring to copper cable thieves as opposed to telecom company directors 😉 ]

Maybe we would be better served if the focus was on transparency and pricing structures of telecom provision rather than the rant of a Which researcher.

As a separate issue, can anybody enlighten me as to what happened to BT’s proposal of converting public telephone boxes into WiFi hotspots?

I find the objection to paying line rental trivial. There are two aspects to broadband service. 1/ The ISP provides access to the service across the Internet. This is a shared service. For cabled connection the user’s point of entry to this is usually in the local exchange. 2/ The line rental provides a dedicated circuit from the user’s premises to the local exchange.
The line rental pays for the dedicated connection which can only be used by the one user and no one else. It should be noted that the charge for this is independent of its length although it clearly costs the provided more to provide a longer wire. Landlines are copper connections from local exchange to the entry point of the users premises. There are now fibre connections available. FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) and FTTP (fibre to the premises). FTTC uses a fibre connection to the user’s local green cabinet in the road. The fibre connection is shared with other users but probably provides the user with a dedicated share of the line. FTTC uses a dedicated copper connection to the user’s premises. FTTP provides a dedicated fibre path from local exchange to the user’s premises. It has a greater throughput than FTTC. The fibre component from the cabinet is a dedicated cable to the premises. Fibre connections are more expensive to provide than copper. I believe that its cost is bundled into the ISP’s service change. This charge is still there, but inclusive.
The line rental pays for dedicated access to a cable connection to the local exchange. As it is dedicated it is reasonable that the charge is fixed and independent of usage.
It is of course possible to avoid paying this charge. Simply do away with the cabled connection. There are a number of suppliers that will provide broadband without using BT’s landlines. Mobile connections exist as do cable TV connections, even satalite. Cable TV connections seem to only come with other bundled services. Mobile broadband is likely to be very expensive for anything other than minimal usage and has much lower speeds than landlines.
My ISP provides me with a 5.5 Mbps service for £6.50/month + landline rental. I wonder how many users actually need the enhanced speeds available with fibre.
You do not have to have/pay-for a landline – just use one of the other technologies. This will probably be more expensive and offer a reduced service. Just get over your hang up on landlines. If you don’t like it take your business elsewhere – if you can find a suitable provider.
The market and technology is continuously changing and is market led. As a comparison 10 years ago I was paying £40/month to the ISP + line rental for a second line to my house + phone calls for the dial up circuit. Costs will probably continue to reduce and mobile connections gradually become more competitive and reliable. Until then most users will choose the landline.

James Brenton says:
21 December 2012

The critical point is that broadband-only contracts need to be advertised as a single transparent price.

I don’t disagree that this price will have to include the real cost of the physical connection. However, by having an additional “hidden” cost of “line rental” the broadband price is not comparable between providers, and this additional cost can be quietly and regularly increased as it is separate to the broadband contract.

If I have a non-BT ISP the landline connection charge is surely BT’s element of the overall service.? Either I pay BT or I pay the ISP who pay BT? Am I right.

Dieseltay. As I see it there are 2 components. The ISP service and the landline connection. You can usually source both from 1 supplier or 2 suppliers. There are 2 connection charges. 1 for the ISP to connect you (and your landline) to his ISP service, set up user accounts etc. The other would be if you needed to have a (new) landline installed for the broadband service. In my case I already had the landline in operation. My ISP was keen to take over responsibility of my landline and phone calls as well as provide broadband services. As his support services were good I agreed to this, probably saving a little money as well. However, should I wish, I can separate these 2 services. If you are starting a brand new ISP service and also need a landline i’m sure you will be offered both from the ISP. However, there is no need to combine them under one supplier. What you do is your choice, depending on your circumstances. I usually choose to keep all of my suppliers separate because of the problems should I wish to unbundle them. However, I see no current reason to separate my ISP and landline supplier. My choice. Note: the landline will still be installed/maintained by BT/Openreach. An ISP can only manage the line and send you bills for it such that you discuss landline matters with the ISP rather than BT. This can be a help in fault fixing.

Snowdin says:
21 December 2012

I assume Catherine doesn’t live in a rural area or have an elderly relative who has significant difficulty using a mobile phone. There are quite a lot of us who do.

We cannot get a mobile signal in our house! We can only use them when we are out.

Marie says:
21 December 2012

Why pay line rental at all?
Make it illegal for companies to charge us rental for a supply line in order to then pay them for calls.
Absorb it into the calls and we would all pay pro rata according to use.

OK – include the price of the line rental (conventional or fibre optic) in the cost of broadband services so that they are easy to compare tariffs.

Surely that is simple and fair, and not something anyone can possibly find fault with..

Not sure if anyone already mentioned this, but with BT you have to make two chargeable calls per month on the landline, otherwise you get charged £1,50 for NOT using the phone (plus £3 if you have BT Privacy or whatever it’s called). Recently they added this to my line when I had made two calls and claimed that they had to be calls that added to my bill, not included within my weekend and evening package. When I pointed out that their website T&C said it was any call that would be chargeable, they refunded and said there had been a fault with their systems. So check your bills.

mrrog says:
22 December 2012

What a confusing article, I’m still no wiser as to if a telephone line is necessary for broadband.

Which is getting increasingly obscure and superficial, seriously considering ditching my subscription.

Aol have been trying to persuade me to have optical cable for broadband for ages. The most recent offer was £5/month though it used to be £10 per month (in addition to the landline etc) plus a connection charge. However I am perfectly happy with copper connected broadband and I wouldn’t want to solely rely on my Vodaphone as reception is not very good in some places in my home and a landline phone seems ideal as it is wireless x 3 and can also be used as an intercom when I am in the garden or greenhouse. The only downside is that I continually receive recorded phone calls imploring me to claim £2000 compensation. This is despite having registered with the telephone preference service.

Patrick S says:
28 December 2012

I am on BT Broadband. For some unknown reason I am not able to upgrade to BT Infinity.
I live alone, I have a mobile phone and I never use up all my inclusive minutes.
I have no use for a landline and I do not normally have a phone plugged in.
I was offered and I took BT Line Rental Saver to reduce the (redundant) cost to £129.
The terms and conditions say:
“You need to make at least 2 BT calls per month to avoid a £2 minimum call commitment monthly charge”
BT are going to penalise me financially for NOT using my landline. Where is the logic in this? What extra overhead does BT incur when I do not make any calls?

Barry says:
30 December 2012

As far as I am aware “line rental” does not stipulate what the line is made of, i.e.copper, aluminium or glass fibre. Unless you have satelite broadband ( or wifi from next door) then you have a line running to your house and BT rents it out.

I’m with Talk Talk for Land line and “High Speed Fibre optic” Broadband (I know, I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time!)

Last Summer I tried to connect a Talk Talk SIM Only mobile account onto my main online account to consolidate all charges. That was in May. I found out that the task was impossible…. Why? because each and every attempt to add a simple account was blocked by the software demanding that I link to my main account by quoting the Landline number, and then blithely informing me that I could not proceed, as the Landline was already connected!( to the BB account) There followed an acrimonious exchange of emails to a whole slew of people who all seemed to possess 2 things in common. 1) A name originating from the Indian Sub – Continent and 2) a complete inability to read, understand and reply using plain English.

Eventually I terminated the account (after more strife) bought an Orange Sim Only Card, fitted it to the phone and stood back and admired the ease at which the Orange web Account added the new account to my existing 2 other registered numbers.

There is another aspect to the retention of Landline numbers. When applying for Credit, the Credit Card issuer will look more favourably upon an applicant who is able to supply a landline number…..They seemingly apply a curious logic to their deliberations that if you are connected to a Landline then your credit worthiness is higher than those with “just” a mobile number.

It’s unsurprising that some ‘weighting’ is given in favour of those with a landline number as opposed to those with a mobile only number. It confirms probable permanency of address whilst reducing probability of a fraudulent application, especially if the address and landline match the voting registration details.

Think of it rather like trying to order something on the Internet for the first time and attempt to get it delivered to a different address than your credit card registered address!

Mobile-only = No-Fixed-Abode

Nelson Spring says:
3 January 2013

Thank heavens for the likes of Peter Day, dieseltaylor and banjo for understanding (a) the technology differences between BT ‘optical’ and Virgin and (b) the reality of mobiles, 999 calls, 0800 costs and not relying 100% on digital. But the rental charges may be too high, possibly subsidising other services. If so, it’s the poor old girl paying too much line rental but never using a computer who is being ripped off. That’s always the trouble with subsidies – they can obscure how much you (or someone else) are really paying for each component. But it’s a pretty common practice – not just broadband companies. And somebody somewhere has to pay for the creation and maintenance of the optical/copper or 100% optical connection to your house for broadband of this type to work at all.

Penny says:
3 January 2013

Please can I put you right about Mobile phones and landlines. I find your arrogence astounding that you assume that every person has a mobile phone. I do NOT have one, many of my friends do NOT have a mobile phone, because where we live there is no signal so there is no point in having one. Many of my friends do not have a computer and come to me for shopping on the Internet. We have only just been connected to Broadband and some of my friends still have not. Our land lines are our only communication to our friends and families. I sincerely hope they do not stop them as it would put us out of touch should there be an emergency. I find your opinion very frightening.

Dear Penny.

I hope that you were not too alarmed by the opinions expressed in these comments.
I don’t think anyone is even suggesting the complete eradication of all landline telephones, merely commenting on a perceived trend which seems to be that land line ownership in favour of mobile phones is becoming more prevalent. I don’t think that there is any danger of anyone arriving at our homes and forcibly disconnecting us from our telephones, ( with the possible exception of those who don’t pay their bills of course!) :-))))

Danny says:
5 January 2013

I’ve spoken to a few people that work at telecoms companies over this and the general response has been:

“While you have FTC (Fibre To Cabinet), you still use copper cable from the cabinet to the property. So the line rental fee is to maintain that section of the cable.
Until we are able to get fibre to the property, line rental will still apply”

Fibre optic cable does not install itself free of charge. Whether you pay a separate charge or it is included in your tariff, expect to pay for the service. The charges need to be clear so that we can compare tariffs.

Joel says:
8 January 2013

I have FTTP (fibre to the premises). The fibre cable comes straight to the house through the wall into the living room, connected straight to the modem and onto the BT Hub. It cost £35 a month for 160mb download 20mb upload. I’m happy to pay that.
BUT I also have to pay £129 a year for the copper line that goes into a completely different part of my house into the hallway and isn’t even connected to a phone as I don’t have one. Because I don’t have a phone in my house I then get CHARGED a fine of £1.50 a month for not using my phone making my monthly bill £36.50 with the added £129 a year. I find this a complete rip off that I have to pay so much for something I do not use. I’m happy to pay for the broadband but not for the land line.

The pricing structure is slightly quaint but the information on the BT website is quite clear. Think of the cost of the phone line as a standing charge for your broadband service.


I have a similar set up powering a Fibre Optic BB connection. This is provided by Talk Talk with whom I have had a Land line account for many years. A few years ago I was paying vast amounts in Telephone bills and I began to cut it back to the bare bones. We now use either of our mobile phones on “free call’ tariffs, or Skype for all outgoing calls, and our bills have tumbled.

Our land line costs us just the standard £14 50 + Talk Talk’s Basic tarriff which provides free calls to 0870 numbers. This kept the pre ” Super Fast BB bills down to around £22 per month….. There are no fines for low ( or no) usage. Add £10 per month for the new service and I’m fairly content with this level of expenditure.
So, why not cancel your BT land line and go across to another provider who may be able to provide you with a cheaper system, and even do away with the landline altogether.

The new BB service is fairly good but still suffers from those two old bug bears of all internet connections since the days of Dial up Services… unexplained drop outs and slow speeds at peak times.

Reading articles on Japanese and Chinese Telecoms which produce a basic standard 200 mbps to all their subscribers makes me think that this country is perpetually hogtied to an antediluvian copper wire infrastructure for the majority of its Telecoms systems.

Joel says:
10 January 2013

I wish I could. Unfortunately for the moment the Bradwell Abbey exchange only seem to offer fibre with BT or 0.5mb with other providers. Virgin isn’t a option either as they’re not digital in my area.
I do agree to shop around though.

I believe that your exchange is trialing FFTP (fibre to the premises) and not FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) which is why only BT is offering at the moment.

Your exchange is unbundled and Talk Talk operate out of it. I suggest you ask Talk Talk if they are going to offer FTTC service any time soon.

sebastian says:
19 March 2013

we’re originally from eastern europe. nobody pays line rental. u just pay your subscription that includes whatever internet and calls you are making. thats it.

Mark Shuttleworth says:
18 April 2013

Most fibre services end through your phoneline.
This is cheap for providers since there is no performance penalty. Right outside your home it’s fibre, so think of it like being a few metres away from the exchange.

That is why even fibre services charge line rental, because they are too lazy to make a new cable coming into your house.

Virgin is the only one I know of that differs, because their internet service does NOT end through your copper/ADSL line. They actually wire up fibre directly to your home — at the demarc (inside your house) it ends in a coax cable, and they give you a cable modem which your router connects to (unlike most routers the WAN port is a Cat5e cable not ADSL) — their new services include the “SuperHub” which is the old modem and rotuer combined into 1 device now.

Virgin without phone — it really IS free of line rental. We have used them for years.

heard of Voip?

sipgate.co.uk is what we use, there are others. They give you a number (area code plus 6 digits) its free to join and the number is free, there are no fixed monthly charges. Calls to other sipgate users are free, and to call landlines/mobiles they charge you but you put credit on your account (like a pay as you go mobile phone), its dirt cheap.

With BT we used to pay about £50 a month since we use phones a lot, with sipgate we pay like £3 per month on average.

Its very popular in germany and USA (they have offices there too).

I also have a Dutch SIP service (voip planet.nl) for making cheaper calls within that country.

Using voip is the same (practically speaking) as a normal BT service. You pick up a phone and call numbers. Others call your number. It just works.

There is a technical difference, in that you connect your old phones to your switch or internet router, using an adapter (we have Grandstream HT-701 — google for it). adapter goes via cat5e to router, your phone connects via ADSL cable (or BT->ADSL connector adapter plug) to the voip adapter (grandstream).

That is 1 way, in which you use your old phone.

If you have a mic on your PC, you can also use your SIP prowvider witha software called 3cx (there are also others such as PhonerLite, but 3cx is the best in my opinion).

We have 120Mb internet from Virgin (£35 per month), with sipgate as phone connecting through our internet. We pay roughly the same as most people, but we get more.

Of course you can get Virgin’s 30 or 60Mb service and use sipgate.

Or maybe even DONT use sipgate. But its free to join, so if ur not making calls , you dont pay anything. But you can use that as an incoming number.

Right now we have seen with sipgate:
1p per minute to landlines
10p per minute to mobiles
FREE to call other sipgate users (on their number)

These are only slightly lower than BT based on how most people use phones, but that reduces phone bills overall a lot. Also, unlike BT you don’t pay a fixed fee per call (with BT you not only pay per minute, you also pay a fixed fee on top of that which is like 17p per call).