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Mills College administration still sees dorm phones as useful

In many homes, traditional landline phones like the ones in Mills College’s residence halls are quickly going the way of tape and CD players as people everywhere go wireless or choose internet-based forms of communication.

As students rely more and more on cell phones and social networking sites to keep in touch with friends and family, many who live in the dorms don’t even set up their on-campus voicemails anymore.

Though Mills doesn’t keep any statistics on student use of dorm phones, Ruth Duncan, Auxiliary Services Specialist, said even with a decline in use of in-room phones, they are still valuable.

“Mills considers the phones to be useful. Mills staff prefer to use known numbers rather than trying to contact students on cell phone numbers which are often not on file or up to date,” said Duncan.

Landline phones serve as an official form of College communication for this reason; the Mail and Copy Center uses them to alert residents when they have packages. Students can also just dial the four-digit extension of campus offices when calling from their room phone.

“It’s a way for the campus to communicate,” said Sandra Daniel, Mills’ Technical Director of Telecommunications.

Senior Tarra La Valley uses her cellular phone in her Prospect Hill apartment rather than using her in-room landline phone. (Maxamaris Hoppe).

Plus, maintaining the system isn’t costly. According to Daniel, Mills pays only a couple hundred dollars a month to maintain the system, through a contract with service provider Campus Link.

The system was originally purchased in 1993 along with a staff phone system, when Mills switched from Centrex lines powered by PacBell to PBX (or private branch exchange, a telephone exchange that serves a particular business or office).

Long distance service was dropped in 2000, according to Daniel, because not many students were using it.

Although the use of in-room phones to call local and toll free numbers is included in the cost of housing, many students still find it more convenient to use cell phones.

“No, I don’t use my dorm phone this year. I did last year. My phone doesn’t work and I never put in a work order. Because of my cell phone, I didn’t really need to get it fixed,” said Nicole Washington, a sophomore at Mills.

But Mills believes the dorm phones are especially useful in the case of an emergency.

“Calls to 911 from campus phones provide 911 and Public Safety personnel with the room number that is calling. [This] allows quick and timely access in an emergency,” said Duncan.

911 calls from a mobile phone are received by the California Highway Patrol before being forwarded to local authorities, and the CHP often can’t identify the location of the caller.

For Daniel, the phone system is useful because of the safety it provides for students.

Not surprisingly, Mills’ campus is not the only place where landline phones are underused. Households across the nation have been nixing their home phones for cell phones since the new millennium.

“Wireless has continued to boom…while the number of landlines has fallen somewhere between 4% and 6% in every year since 2000,” said in an article written in July 2008.

But wireless isn’t the only cause of the fall in use of landlines. Some analysts say the recent economic downturn has also played a major role.

“In this first real slowdown of the wireless age, consumers seem to be saying that home-based telephones are expendable luxuries, like Starbucks lattes or Coach handbags,” said

For now, landline dorm phones are not considered a luxury at Mills.

Jennifer Courtney contributed to this report.