On a New Jersey Islet, Twilight of the Landline

“Verizon decides then and there to step on us,” said Mr. Flihan, 75, a retired toy designer and marketer.

Verizon said it was too expensive to replace Mantoloking’s traditional copper-line phone network — the kind that has connected America for more than a century — and instead installed Voice Link, a wireless service it insisted was better.

Verizon’s move on this sliver of land is a look into the not-too-distant future, a foreshadowing of nearly all telephone service across the United States. The traditional landline is not expected to last the decade in a country where nearly 40 percent of households use only wireless phones. Even now, less than 10 percent of households have only a landline phone, according to government data that counts cable-based phone service in that category.

The changing landscape has Verizon, AT&T and other phone companies itching to rid themselves of the cost of maintaining their vast copper-wire networks and instead offer wireless and fiber-optic lines like FiOS and U-verse, even though the new services often fail during a blackout.

“The vision I have is we are going into the copper plant areas and every place we have FiOS, we are going to kill the copper,” Lowell C. McAdam, Verizon’s chairman and chief executive, said last year. Robert W. Quinn Jr., AT&T’s senior vice president for federal regulatory issues, said the death of the old network was inevitable. “We’re scavenging for replacement parts to be able to fix the stuff when it breaks,” he said at an industry conference in Maryland last week. “That’s why it’s going to happen.”

The Federal Communications Commission has long agreed. In its National Broadband Plan, published in 2010, the F.C.C. said that requiring certain carriers to maintain plain old telephone service “is not sustainable” and could siphon investments away from new networks.

“The challenge for the country,” the F.C.C. said, is to ensure “a smooth transition for Americans who use traditional phone service and for the businesses that provide it.”

But as far as Mr. Flihan and others in New Jersey are concerned, that transition from a reliable service — one that has given them a sense of security all their lives — is not smooth at all. An array of state-sanctioned consumer advocacy groups, as well as AARP, have petitioned regulators to disallow the replacement of Mantoloking’s copper lines with Voice Link.

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