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The missing phone device and the IRS


IRS rules, lack of a good cell-phone dock may affect move away from landline phones


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 01/28/2008


We are becoming ever more disconnected, telephone-wise anyway. In the past few years there has been a move for people to drop their landline phones and get by with just their cell phones.


Even with the significant growth in cell-phone-only households, this trend may have been slowed by the lack of what seems to me to be the right device, and it may be partially derailed by an IRS move to tax all employees for company-provided equipment -- such as cell phones.


In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on the results of a survey covering communication choices. The CDC had started collecting the phone numbers of survey participants to enable follow-up calls. In 2003, the outfit had begun asking about the type of phones people had.


The results of this most recent survey, which covered the first half of 2007, showed that 12.6% of U.S. adults lived in a cell-phone-only household, up from 9.6% a year earlier. As one might expect, the results also showed an uneven distribution of such households along age lines. Nearly 31% of adults aged 25 to 29 lived in cell-phone-only households; among adults aged 65 and over, only 2% did. There is plenty of room for growth, because 59% of households still have both landlines and cell phones. (Just to be complete, 1.8% of adults live in households with no phone.) The CDC notes this trend could introduce bias in marketing and opinion surveys because the survey companies do not include known cell phones in their list of targets.


In my experience, most businesspeople who work in an office still have a cell and a landline phone, and many list both on their business cards. If all they were interested in was being able to be reached on the phone, this would not make much sense. Maybe one reason to continue the landline is because it is just easier to use for many of us -- text messaging aside. The bigger keypad, more comfortable handset, a screen you can see while talking, and so forth -- all make for a better user experience. (Yes, even better than with the iPhone.) So, why doesn’t someone make a cell-phone dock that looks and acts like a regular desk phone? When you walk into your office, you stick your cell phone into the dock, which recharges the phone and provides you with the key pad, display and handset you are used to. I’d switch to that if I could get it -- and if the Harvard phone people supported it.


For many people, this would be great -- they would be reachable on the “office” phone when they were in the office and when they were elsewhere. Most companies permit some personal use of company-provided computers and cell phones, so, as long as you are not too much of a chatterbox, this would work out just fine.


Well, "just fine" if it were not for the IRS. The IRS recently has reinforced an old rule that says that company-provided “real estate, furniture, equipment, personal computers and or cellular phones” should be listed as income for the employee and that the employee should pay taxes on it.


The IRS does provide an out -- the employee has to maintain a log of use, it’s not enough to just say “no personal use." (Here's an explanation in English.)


In spite of the IRS, the trend away from landline phones is likely to accelerate, not good news to the providers of landline-based services.


Disclaimer: I have no idea what Harvard’s opinion of the IRS might be, so it is my own opinion that this rule does not make life easier.


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