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Ringtones Replace Rings in Millions of Homes

Countless times each year, we're asked to fill out forms that ask for our work and home telephone numbers. And it's becoming increasingly tricky to do so.

According to the latest survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 18 percent of U.S. homes - one in every six - have no traditional, land-line telephone at all. You know, the kind with a handset and a wire leading to a connection in the wall.

A home without a telephone was a rarity in America until this century. In 2003, 5 percent of American households had no land-line phone service.

The reason people are trashing their clunky old phones is obvious to anyone following cultural trends. Americans have grown used to ever-smaller mobile phones, which they answer at home as well as on the go.

But many of those who have held on to their land-line phones say cell phones are fine for quick calls but uncomfortable to balance for long periods of time, say on a lengthy call from Mom and Dad at home. They note that cell phones are easy to lose, misplace or forget to recharge. A traditional telephone isn't going anywhere, and its signal is usually reliable and strong.

Companies that sell products by phone, print telephone directories, or conduct polls are not happy about the trend away from land-line phones, since there are now fewer and fewer home phone numbers to call. Lots of pollsters have switched to online surveys instead.

When we started this story, you may have wondered why the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, which usually attends to graver issues like epidemics, would concern itself with Americans' telephone habits. The agency will not allow researchers to call cellular phones, since they get passed around so much that you're not entirely sure whom you're talking to. Since many young people, in particular, have switched entirely to cell phones, the CDC - like others who rely upon research surveys - worries that those young people won't be fairly represented in important surveys concerning the nation's health.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.