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Is the Payphone Dead? 259

m_evanchik asks: "The Net Economy has an article about phonebooths serving double duty as cell-phone antenna stations. I hate to see pay phones disappear and this sounds like a nice way to keep 'em alive a little longer. Heck, hacking pay phones is where it all started for the likes of Cap'n crunch. Is the pay phone a dying breed, still a necessity, or do we need more hacks like these to keep 'em alive? I say keep 'em around just for nostalgia's sake." While cellular and wireless technologies are making massive strives, personally I think it's too early to call for the end of the payphone. Heck, even with PCS, I still get dropped calls and, in more circumstances that I'd care to admit, I'm just plain unable to dial out from certain areas. This is not a problem with payphones. I'm especially grateful for the ones you find in your out-of-the-way places, like your average subway station. How do the rest of you feel?
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Is the Payphone Dead?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    And besides, where would Clark Kent change into his Superman uniform?

    What's that you say? There haven't been any phone booths since when? Oh, nevermind, I'll just go back to sleep now.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    would be like getting rid of fire hydrants - you might just need them in an emergency. Can you imagine not being able to get a signal on your mobile when the deer in your backseat is kicking you, and you need a 'ambylance?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    i have found that phones without callback are a minority

    Just 2 weeks ago my dad called my cellphone from the LA airport. after hanging up i realized i would be late picking him up so i dialed the number which was stored in my phone (it did not come up as "unidentified caller" or "number not available") and he picked up.

    back in the day, when my friends all had pagers not cellphones, we used to page eachother to payphones all the time. and yes, it was for illegal purposes....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's called D.C.
  • I'm in the military and on the base that i'm at you can make free long distance phone calls at all the bellsouth payphones on base, it doesn't work on the AT&T payphones though.

    The quick version is that you pick up the phone, wait for the dialtone, tap the hangup button, wait for the tone to come back, tap it again, wait for the tone, and continue until the tone doesn't come back, dial 18005555555, then wait, about a minute, and eventually you hear a dialtone. Call any number you want!

    Its perfectly reliable on base, but I haven't had any luck getting it to work anywhere else, although some people say that they have.
    I have no idea why it works, but its pretty awesome. It would definately be ashame if they were to get rid of the payphones on here.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Otherwise, what would happen to the people like those at the Payphone Project [payphoneproject.com]? Their site is truly amusing.

    Their comments section is worth taking a look at too. I've posted links to one story there in particular on Slashdot in the past because it's hilarious:
    Pay Phone Event #1, Atlantic City, 1977 []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:01PM (#281159)
    In sweden all payphones are to be removed within a few years (according to the teleco) because their usage has dropped so much the maintance costs is higher than the earings they cash in (thanks to the cellular phones)
  • I was at the New Carrolton Amtrak station, waiting for a commuter train north, and it was snowing. I needed to know the current conditions up in Baltimore, but didn't want to waste the prepaid cell phone. I had an account with Yahoo! By Phone, and dialed up the 1-800-44-YAHOO number into my account...

    It was snowing. Heavy.

    Quite useful, those payphones. But if we shrink the payphone tech to put in a cellphone transceiver, we can reuse the space. Worth it!

    WolfSkunks for a better Linux Kernel

  • Well, I don't know about the true poor (that is no money at all), but my expirence is low income folks are more likely to have a cell phone. When you are at the same location a wired phone is cheap and works. When your up in a tree picking fruit one week, and the next berries in anouther town, a cell phone is the only option. When your a carpenter making $12/hour you can't be reach any other way, and probably need a phone often to call for more supplies. (Generally you are not paid for using your personal phone for work either)

    Those working at McDonalds might not be able to afford a cell phone, but few people work there who have other options, which generally means out of high school)

  • That depends on the phone. All national no roaming phones (in the US) have an analog mode, and very few parts of the Us are not covered by analog. Sure the quality sucks (because the tower is miles away), but there is service. Well, at least along freeways there is service. You see cell phone companies know that travelers are a major source of income, and travelers only get off the main roads to get gas or a meal, so they cheap, towers to cover the freeway and however far out the tower happens to reach. Drive a back road and there is no service, but if you drive a back road you should be equipped to get out anyway.

  • Good, that frees up the cell towers for the rest of us to use. I think more people should discover the freedom and independence of not having a cellular phone. I mean, there's nothing I like more when it's 10 degree below zero and my car dies than to take a brisk 5 mile walk to the local payphone. Ahh, such independence invigorates me. :-)
  • For all the evils of the ATT/Bell monopoly, it did subsidize necessary but unprofitable services like pay phones and hard to service local lines with the profits from more lucrative and voluntary things like long distance.

    I wouldn't worry for too much longer. With the recent telecommunications mergers in the last 5 years we should be back to the AT&T/Bell monopoly in oh... about 3 years now. Has Verizon announced merger talks with SBC yet? I'll put my bet on sometime next year. Then who is left.. hmm.. Qwest? Oh oh I forgot. SBC has to merge with Worldcom first. Then Sprint will merge with Qwest. Then Qwest will merge with Verizon. Then Verizon will merge with SBC, then SBC will merge with AT&T. It's like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon! How far are we from an AT&T monopoly again! hehe.
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:43PM (#281165) Homepage Journal

    Here in the city I live in, pay phones were removed because it was alleged that all they do is draw drug dealers and prostitutes.

    The people in the city should be careful of that sort of reasoning! Compare the number of times you've seen hookers or dealers hanging out on a corner in the city vs. a rural area.

    Conclusion: cities attract crime! Demolish them immediatly!!!

  • Soon, the only place you'll see a payphone is in a Sharper Image store, next to the Wurlitzer jukebox and antique Coke machine. Yuppies will buy 'em to decorate their homes.

    Maybe they'll be replaced by those suicide booths like on Futurama

  • My opinion, but anonymity is a right, not just a necessity. I do agreee with your point.

  • I would never buy a cellphone, for the mere fact that I wouldn't want to be that accessible.
    Um... they have power switches. How do you think I get the thing to shut up when I'm at the movies? And I'll bet you'll be sitting smugly in your car the next time you run out of gas in the middle of the desert, happy not to have a cell...

    Wireless phones aren't much use in rural and uninhabited areas. Not only would you be pissed at yourself for forgetting to buy gas before attempting to drive across a desert, but also for blowing some $30-$40/mo a phone that keeps telling you "no service" instead of completing your call for help. There's also not much of an argument for having an emergency use only wireless phone in populated areas since there's always a payphone or a business within walking distance that you can visit and call for a tow.

    Unless you want to make and receive calls when you're travelling, there's no good reason to have a wireless phone. I don't have one precicely because I don't like to be bothered when I'm driving and any calls I might want to make can wait until I reach my destination.

  • I never use pay phones (maybe you guys should start using AT&T+Nokia - my phone always works) and I think we all know who paid for that ten-cent increase in the price of pay phones. It sure wasn't we loyal mobile users. I'm sorry, but I have always had this creeping feeling that pay phones were only there to gouge the poor.
  • With your argument, because some guy in an SUV cut you off, or a granny in a buick is driving 10 under the speed limit in the left hand freeway lane, it makes all cars bad, and you won't drive them.

    Of corse not! It just means I won't drive a SUV or Buick!

  • We have almost no payphones in Finland and almost (except for kids and the elderly) everyone has a cellphone (over 2 million sold phones in a country of 5 million). The local companies responsible for the public phones took them away after the upkeep topped the earnings.

    And as for being able to call in the subway that Cliff was complaining about, there _are_ solutions to that. At least here I can make a call without any glitches even when inside the train and in the tunnel.
  • Should I have to pay if you have activated call forwarding on your landline phone to some other number? No, because it is at your convienence, not mine.

    Well, implement it the right way then: If you forward calls to phone 1 to another phone 2, you pay for a call from 1 to 2. This is how it is done in Sweden.


  • not everyone WANTS to have one either. Someone said in an earlier post that the city said they attract prostitutes and drug dealers.. I believe that drug dealers use wireless more often than not..

    I find a ringing phone annoying, a ringing payphone even more annoying, but a ringing cell phone is my pet peeve. If you are one of those assholes that leaves it on during class and it goes off just b/c your friend is driving to another class and is too impatient to wait till afterwards to talk to you, then you deserve to go the way that payphones may go! ;-)
  • you are most definitely my new hero.
  • i love walking by a ringing payphone and answering. usually it's someone trying to figure out why someone is one the phone.
    fun things to do (if male, invert if female):
    if it's a man get enraged and act like other guys husband, whose wife has a travelinng job. or, if it's a woman, act gay and etc..... or just discuss coxswain
  • Payphones are great if you want to make a call and reduce the chance of people knowing who you are. (Like calling the cops for a domestic violence incident on your neighbors and being able to give a fake name)

    Payphones are also nice when you have to make a long call and are roaming, $.75 a minute can get really pricy compared to $.05-$.10 a minute charge on my trusty AT&T pre-paid phone card. Even with connection fees a pre-paid phone card can save you a bundle (some of us still have &h!tty Analog Cell Service, THANKS VERIZON YOU SUCK)

  • Just a reminder that not everyone can afford telephone service at home, much less cell phone service. I remember when payphone prices increased from 20 cents to 35 cents (in California at least), that it was a major issue to low income families. Imagine if your telephone costs almost doubled overnight?
  • I am not sure where I read this; but I remember 4 years ago reading an article about how phone companies were taking pay phones out of a lot of areas and not putting pay phones in where people were requesting. The writer, if he did research or not I will never know, wrote that they were removing the phones and not putting new ones to force people to buy cell phones--which they obviously make more money off of due to the money fee.

    My philosophy was always; why get a cell phone when a pay phone is always a few feet away, but it seems like lately when I look for a pay phone they are never around when I need one so I had to break down and get a cell phone. I pay some 40 dollars a month with about 8 of that going to some kind of taxes or another and I use maybe 100 minutes of my 500 minutes. It seems like if their plan was to get more people to buy cell phones by taking out the pay phones it worked here.
  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @09:09PM (#281179)
    Boy, the suggestion that payphones are obsolete sure does say a lot about the income bracket of the people submitting stories to Slashdot.

    Hey, now that we've all got great benefits packages, let's get rid of public health clinics. And since our kids are all living off of the largesse of our absurdly high family incomes, let's can the school lunch program. Heck, let's just bulldoze all those poor neighborhoods now that no one lives in them anymore.

    Oh wait -- you mean we're not the majority, just an insular clique of tech specialists? Whoooaaaa, heavy man.


  • What anonymity? All those calls are logged. And pay phones that are suspect for drug use are often wiretapped legally for a suspect. But your calls are innocently recorded also. (-;
  • by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:04PM (#281181) Homepage Journal
    Timmy go dial 911, mommys hurt and needs medical attention. Opps, no payphone, no cell coverage.

    This is not a rumor, but some cell site techs wont fix sites at night. So if your mobile base station is down in east LA, its staying down till the next business day.

  • by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:09PM (#281182) Homepage Journal
    Dont forget, good credit gets you 10 cents a minute, poor or no credit gets you a pre-paid phone with 35 cents a minute. So even if phones are free, the minutes will cost more for lower income brackets, thus keeping cell phones out of lower income urban areas.
  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @04:05PM (#281193) Homepage Journal
    If I had knowledge of the details of a crime, I would only call the police from a pay phone to give them a tip. My cooperation would be predicated upon my anonymity. If they know who I am, they can question me as to how I know these details. Maybe I witnessed this crime while I was getting a hummer from the Chief's 19 year old daughter in my truck.

    If I couldn't be anonymous, I'd keep my mouth shut.

    If payphones are eliminated, you'll see tips to law enforcement take a steep dive.

  • by dar ( 15755 )
    We're gonna need those hard-lines for the Matrix sequels.
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:04PM (#281199)
    > Here in the city I live in, pay phones were removed because it was alleged that all they do is draw drug dealers and prostitutes.

    And sadly, crime actually got worse, because they had unwittingly destroyed Superman's natural habitat.

  • by logout ( 20612 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @05:05PM (#281200)
    Actually, that's what happened in South Korea about several years ago.

    KT telecomm, the state-run telecommunition company once decided to cell short-ranged wireless phones --- the product name was "City Phone." It's similar to 900Mhz wireless phone that can be easily found in any American home, but the idea was the public phone booths serves as a base station, collecting phone call requests from the City Phone handsets nearby. The rate was cheaper than PCS or Cellulars. But City Phone handsets could not receive phone calls; it just can make calls.

    KT was the only service provider of City Phone service because it was the only one public phone service provider in South Korea. KT started City Phone service with installing antennas and wireless base station in the exsisting public phone booth. I remember the service quality was fairly good: No noise, good sound quality. The rate was 3 or 4 times of that of normal phones, but the rate for PCS or cellular service was more than twice as much as that of City Phone.

    City Phone business was found to be a total failiure in the end. It was mainly due to KT's strategy. KT tried to compete with PCS and Cellular services, but City Phone service was actually no match for them in spite of its cheap rate because City Phone handsets were unable to receive calls. That was a major drawback for customers. But KT continued to advertize its service being equivalent to PCS or celluar, but the strategy didn't work. All the customers finally all switched to PCS or celluar services instead of cheap City Phone.

    KT now declared that it gave up the service. Now in Korea, especially in the metropolitan city of Seoul, careful people can easily find a tall antenna and a box or wireless base station attached to every phone booth. But the problem is they are not working. South Koreans were unable to come up with the idea that City Phone actually had been able to change all the public phone booths to cheap handsets.

    Since more than 50% of South Korean people are now subscribers of PCS or cellular service, the current size of wireless networks or wirless base stations networks which were built by private service providers exceed the size of public phone networks. There is no reason for South Koreans to try to "utilize" the old public phone booth. But what I found out in this KT failure case is that exsisting public phone booths can serve as another kind of information service. In my personal opinion, if KT had tried to market City Phone as an alternative to public phone card, it might have been successful. Maybe South Koreans would be buying cheap personalized handsets to use public phone. Maybe the handsets might be evolving into "disposable phone" now, which was discussed in slashdot recently.

    There are many kinds of things to do with exsiting public phone network. Network is important; without network, the value of individual service must remain low. My cell phone is valuable because I can make phone calls to my friend who is another subscriber of the same service or I can receive a call from him. Although the clumsy business plan of KT in Korea had ended in total failure, I really wish other countries find some better ways to utilize the existing public phone network. With some careful planning, KT and City Phone could have been successful in Korea. But alas....

  • I personally like being out of communications. People are bugging me all the damn time for one thing or another, you'd have to pay me a lot to make them be able to bug me when I'm finally alone in my car or shopping.

    So get a phone with voice-mail or pager service. Most cell phones have them these days.

    When I give people my cell-phone number, it is with the understanding that I can refuse to answer my phone at any time for any reason or no reason at all. If they don't like it, tough. Leave a nasty message in my voice-jail for me to ignore. Since my phone also has Caller-ID, I'm almost always able to make callbacks when I feel more communicative. I do this without a single shred of guilt, and so should anyone else with a cell-phone.

  • BT says the lease fees will subsidize its payphone business, which it apparently isn't ready to exit.
    The author misses an important point here - BT are legally required to maintain a payphone network as part of their public service obligation (just as the UK Post Office are required to deliver letters for a flat fee within the UK regardless of their desitnation). I think the mini-antenna idea is an imaginative one, but really BT are just looking for ways to make some money from a business which they cannot avoid being in.
  • Payphones are mandatory. Digital cell phones in my home state have hit two cities, for a grand total of about 800 sq. miles of spotty coverage. Analog coverage is severly limited by the mountains. PCS isn't even on the map yet. Take a look at this map [amazon.com]. All those grey areas are "no coverage."

    Plus, strangely, the cell coverage goes out frequently. Some farmer in the Yakima Valley will plow through a fiber line, and suddenly Idaho and Montana are without cell phones. I'm not kidding. A month ago we lost cell coverage for four days because a backhoe in Ballard severed a fiber line. Sheesh.

  • Sure I have, I just don't buy the logic of blaming the tool instead of the tool-user.

    I've also had plenty of people ruin movies just because they wouldn't shut the hell up (and a few awful ones rescued by funny hecklers). And many years of driving in Boston taught me that there are more ways to cut people off than you can shake a tire iron at; cell-using drivers can't even make a dent in THAT body count.

    I stay out of malls, so I never have the last problem. I just look at the mic users like they are talking to themselves.

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

  • Not everyone is fortunate to own a cell phone, nor financially well enough off to do so. Some of us simply don't /want/ a cell phone - they're another complication in an already-busy world. I personally value the time I can get away from people.

    What about people who don't have phones in their houses, and only rarely make a long-distance call from a pay phone w/ a phone card? What about people who don't have cell phones and travel? (Like students - pay phones save our asses many times!) What about youth? What about the majority of the working class? All these people still use cell phones, especially in more populated areas.

    Most importantly, where will Superman change?

    The viewpoint that phone booths are dying out is crap. It illustrates a small-minded outlook on life, from someone who has never known anything other than upper-class living.


  • by Steve B ( 42864 ) on Thursday April 19, 2001 @06:27AM (#281220)
    ...how can you repeatedly call the 1-800-SPAMMER numbers that show up in your e-mail?
  • Funny scene in the Superman movie. Clark Kent runs up to a pay phone. But it's freestanding and not in a phone booth! Clark shakes his head annd goes else where...
  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:49PM (#281222) Journal
    Several years ago, pay phones were deregulated and the curse of COCOTS (customer owned coin-operated telephones) appeared.

    They generally took advantage of unsuspecting users who ended up with huge charges when making calling card calls.

    "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." People soon learned to defend themselves by dialing 800 #s and using their own carrier calling cards to make calls. COCOT owners cried the blues and got the current 35/cent reimbursement for toll free calls. Many of them resorted to dirty tricks, like blocking 800-CALL-ATT for example.

    I remember about 5 years ago thinking "Soon, everyone will be carrying a cell phone and these scum will all go broke and I'll be jumping for joy."

    So, now I'm jumping for joy.

    I do realize some people rely on pay phones on the corner since they can't afford their own, but I think those numbers are pretty slim. Cell phones are getting pretty cheap now. All pay phones have to do is charge reasonable prices and they'll be fine. I've seen one near here that advertises 25 cents local calls (cheaper than RBOCs) and 25 cents/min anywhere in U.S. via coins. That's a good thing. I know what the charge is ahead of time, I pay as I go, and I can evaluate whether or not it's cheaper than my cell phone easily.

  • This is why I keep my cell turned off when I carry it with me. It's nice, however, for the convenience of being able to check my messages from anywhere I want if I am expecting a call. Also nice for when my car breaks down on me yet again. In the past, I have even carried a pager along with the cell. If someone pages and I don't want them to reach me, I ignore the page. If it's someone I wanna talk to, say a hot date (hypothetically speaking, geeks never get dates, right?), I can use the cell to call them back. Literally three people have my cell number. Two of those got it from caller ID. I have since blocked caller ID on my phone.
  • Also, think of all of the people, like me, who don't pay $45 or more a month to afford the "luxury" of being interrupted all of the time by a portable ringing nuisance.
    I'm amazed at the number of people who forget (ignore?) that the things can be turned off. I can respect you not wanting one. But don't use a lame excuse to defend that, there's plenty of better reasons you can come up with.

    Not to mention you can get pre-paid service in most areas. It's what I use, and I love it. I pay about half of what a monthly plan would cost, since I don't use it much, and with no obligation.


  • Two theories:

    1) The law in question only applies to "normal" service and not pre-pay. This would make sense when you consider that normal service involves a contract, and minors cannot enter into a legal contract.

    2) Just because Verizon doesn't have a restriction...


  • Pay phones in my area are always occupied by people from nearby low-cost housing neighborhoods who I guess can't afford a phone. What sounds like happened in your town is that somebody noticed there were a large group of melanin-enhanced folks hanging around the pay phone at the local Taco Bell where the yuppie kids always go on school nights and it upset some parents. Bullshit.

    This story is premature, anyway, pay phones are in no danger yet. Fluff.

    "Smear'd with gumms of glutenous heat, I touch..." - Comus, John Milton
  • Pay phones are just one detail in the broad category of infrastructure which IMO really should be maintained by taxes and subsidies, because without some social engineering they just won't exist even though they are beneficial.

    As long as there's any significant demand it will be filled. It may be more expensive than you'd like, but I don't see why that's a problem. Why shouldn't the cost of maintaining a pay phone be paid by the people who use it? It's like the "universal service fund" that subsidizes lines to rural areas that would otherwise be more expensive; again, why should the extra costs of providing service to outlying areas be hidden? If the response is that some people are too poor to afford the true costs, then I would think it would be more efficient to provide assistance to the poor people than to distort market prices for everyone.

  • At least it's not your home phone number that doesn't exist. My sister and my grandparents live about 100 miles away from me and can't call me at home. Their phone company insists that my exchange doesn't exist. Despite months of complaining noone will accept responsibility for the problem. Frankly, I'm so sick of this that I'm getting rid of the landline alltogether. My cell phone is cheaper than my landline and has more features. Furthermore, when I move next month I know that I'll be able to put my cellphone in my pocket and take it with me. Last time I moved it took the phone company more than 2 months to activate my service.
  • obviously you've never had a cell phone, and realized how damn usefull they are.

    Just because some people use them incorrectly, doesn't mean you wouldn't be able to make good use of one. With your argument, because some guy in an SUV cut you off, or a granny in a buick is driving 10 under the speed limit in the left hand freeway lane, it makes all cars bad, and you won't drive them.

    doesn't make any sense, does it? If you know how to drive, and you can useyour automobile correctly, that's really all that matters, now isn't it?
  • i love how often there are stories posted that assume that everyone on the planet has a computer and net access....

    this time, there's an assumption that everyone has a cell phone.... just ludicrous.

    what a sheltered world.
  • What will 2600 put on the back of their magazines if payphones go the way of the dinosaur?
  • by Ryu2 ( 89645 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @02:52PM (#281250) Homepage Journal
    Think of them as the old-fashioned telephone equivalent of an anonymous proxy server.

    Of course, just like anonymity on the Net, it can be misused. But just like anonymity on the Net, it's something that I'm sure all of us, certainly the Slashdot-reading people, wants to make sure doesn't go away completely.

  • by RedSynapse ( 90206 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:48PM (#281253)
    Am I the only one who thinks this question is patently absurd? First, most people do not have any type of mobile communications device. Second, most people on earth don't have any phone at all. Third, payphones currently generate in excess of five billion US dollars revenue per annum.
    This "question" seems to be an exercise in showing how techno savvy the author is, rather than asking a practical or intelligent question. "Analog communication via landline? Oh that is just so 20th century dahling." This seems like one of the many Slashdot discussions that get sucked into some geektopia fantasy land. I don't know about your reality but in mine there are people living in subway tunnels, boxes, and doorways, and I doubt they are much impressed with pay phones' nostalgia value.
  • by bill.sheehan ( 93856 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @02:51PM (#281255) Homepage
    I hope that pay phones survive a long, long time. Not everyone has a cell phone, or can afford one. Not everyone can afford telephone service in their home. A pay phone should be thought of as a public service, like the public library, enabling everyone to have access to the network when needed.

    "One ringy-dingy..."

  • You know I here people say time and time again the poor people can't afford cell phones (so keep pay phones.....) and that's simply not as true as it used to be. I ride thru one of the not so nice sections (read poorer or more affordable.....) of town and guess what there's a MASS of there? Cell Phone and Pager companies. I can count of at least 6 different phone dealers in a one mile strech on my bus route. There's VoiceStream, PageAll, Wireless Tech and all kinds of names up and down this street. The most popular thing I see on the bus everyday is cell phones. The poor love em.

    I want to make a prediction....as cellphones get cheaper and cheaper, not only will cell phones get more popular, but landlines will slowly start to not be the home phone. In fact, cable or some other data cable will replace your phone lines. There will be no home phone number, just your number. Telemarketers can now call you no matter where are! :) Serously folks, the home phone line will be history, it's just a matter of when. Public phone should not go away untilk there's a reliable and cheap global phone standard (thru satellites). When using a satellite, you can even be in a rural area with no dropped calls. (well, in the future anyway)

  • What is worse is many payphones break and are left unfixed so when you go to call 911 it does not work.
  • Think of them as the old-fashioned telephone equivalent of an anonymous proxy server.

    What would be really great would be if the pay phones provided anonymous ISP services. Think of the following scenario:

    1. You hook your laptop/handheld/wearable into the provided ethernet jack (or use some wireless protocol, e.g. 802.11).

    2. You plug in maybe $0.50 or something (I'm just pulling a number out of my ass... that's a pretty expensive figure compared to your average dialup ISP) in coins for every 5 minutes of access you need.

    3. The phone opens up its connection, and you are configured via DHCP.

    4. Proceed to do whatever you want anonymously. There is no ISP contract that can tie you to your connection, since you paid with cold, hard cash.

    Nice idea, no? Just make sure you encrypt the hell out of whatever traffic you send that might be remotely private. And also watch that you don't communicate with any sites that could be tied to you.

    Your only real worry other than that is if they started putting cameras in the payphones.

    Even if you didn't need anonymity, the idea of having a net connection just a payphone away is damn sweet.


  • The next step is the death of all analog phone lines. They are a public service many people no longer wish to subsidize. If you look at your phone bill, you will realise that the $9 basic service is really costing you $35 a month after all of the taxes and what not are added in, before any long distance charges. This is more than the cost of cell phone service. As more people understand this and get comfortable living without a land line there will be fewer paying custormers to service those land lines and they will go tits up. DSL may be the only thing that land lines are good for.
  • So I am on my cel phone with an important client, and my battery dies. I dart to the nearest pay phone and start dropping change. Went through a 35-cent startup, and 3 5-cent increases.

    Without a payphone, I'd be SOL.

    I can't tell you how many times you are in an airport, and you see people on the pay phone. With the digital cel phones, the rates are good but the service is choppy.

    Cel phones won't kill the payphone.

    The "paper" disposable cel phones that I saw on a science portion of the news a few weeks ago will. Payphones as they are will probably be vending machines for these paper cel phones, and there no longer is a reason to not have an emergency out-going only cel phone on you.

  • If payphones were a "dying breed" 1-800-COLLECT and 1-800-CALL-ATT wouldn't still be spending millions of dollars on advertising. No, they'll be around for a while.
  • What about areas where cell phhoines can't reach? Here in Boston, the entire subway system is inaccessable to cell phones (no repeaters underground).

    Can't reach or don't reach? In the UK, several underground stations and tunnels have repeaters for mobile phones.

    The simple fact is that the USA blows goats when it comes to mobile phone service. It's like none of your companies are taking it seriously. Until coverage is ramped up (and I don't mean coverage that looks like someone tried to follow the highways on a map with a highlighter) and the charging for incoming calls is gone, cellphone uptake in the USA will continue to be worse than some third world countries.

    I mean, there's still analogue phones for sale for gods' sake. They stopped seling those in the UK two years ago.

    Oh, and sort out the HDTV while you're about it.


  • In the USA, it is implemented so that cellphones get a "real" area code. Other places in the world, it is implemented that the cellphone gets a special "cell phone" area code so that the people who call it know they will be paying more.

    This is a *good thing*. Cell phones are expensive. If you don't have to pay for incoming calls, you can budget. Simplified budgeting means greater uptake of cell phones. Greater uptake of cellphones means more incentive for the cellphone companies to improve their coverage.

    If you are someone who is frequently not near a landline, then by getting a mobile, you are providing others with the convenience of being able to get hold of you rather than having to speak to your answerphone. Sure, you may get the advantage of business you may have missed but it's not all one way. You can always put two numbers on your business card you know. And in the UK, you can attach 0800 (free) and 0845 (local toll) numbers to your mobile as well.

    You may feel that the USA way of handling cell phone charges is better than the way other places do it but just look at the facts. Many parts of Europe are approaching and set to exceed 100% uptake whereas USA cellphone uptake is lying bleeding in a ditch.


  • by vorpal22 ( 114901 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @02:59PM (#281279) Homepage Journal
    I would never buy a cellphone, for the mere fact that I wouldn't want to be that accessible. I hardly ever answer the phone when I'm home, so why would I want to cart a cellphone around with me?

    However, I do have the occasional need when I'm out in public to make a phone call, in which case I'm thankful for public phones.

    I don't think public phones will be going anywhere any time soon. The majority of people that I know don't have cell phones, and the public phones in the areas I frequent seem to experience moderate usage.
  • The final straw that pushed me kicking and screaming into getting a cell phone was the lack of functioning pay phones while I was trying to find a company in Northern Virginia. I eventually found one that worked (kind of), but the street noise was so loud, I could not hear the other party. When phone booths were removed, supposedly due to litigation, the usefulness of pay phones dropped dramatically. My wife and I got PCS phones the same week. Now that I have one, I am happy to have it, but I still use the pay phone in the subway occasionally. I don't think that pay phones will every go away at sights of public transportation.
  • Antenna on top of a phone booth is less a "risk" than the mobile phone antenna next to your head. It's just basic physics.

    None of the scientific studies indicate a health risk from mobile phones. The only statistical health link I've seen is that mobile phone users have more fatal traffic accidents...

    Lawyers and their customers, in search of rich companies to sue, like to quote the few available studies that seem to indicate health problems. They fail to mention, that most of those studies have had serious faults or are considered scientifically sound.

    On the other hand, having a lot of valid studies showing there is no detectable health effect, does not exclude a possible unknown effect.

    Studies on possible mobile phone health effects are mainly made because of public and media interest. That also assures funding for every team that remembers to mention 'mobile/cell phones' in their grant application

  • I will keep this brief.

    In my state, CA, it is illegal for a person under the age of 18 to own a pager, cellphone, or a credit card. Now thats not to say that people obay the law but it is none the less the law.

    So long as restrictions like this persist, and I think they should, then the phone companys should be required to maintain payphones.
  • I don't know where people get the idea that we don't need payphones. Earth to Verizon/Qwest/BellSouth/whoeveryourlocalPhoneCo is -- some of us don't *want* cellphones. They're a waste of money to some of us who don't feel we need them and I don't plan on getting one myself.

    Come to think of it, I don't quite get why emergency callboxes are going out of style either -- they're all over every college campus I've seen and nowhere else. The big problem here is that the telcos like wireless -- less maintenance on their part, at least once the infrastructure is in there. The profit margins are probably better for them too. Maybe seeing it that way makes me a bit of a Luddite? I don't know. I don't care. Fact is, not everyone is going to have a phone in their pocket when they need to call home.

  • One night (when I was in high school) my parents kicked me out of their suburban house. To blow some steam, I went walking through Baltimore's ghettoes.

    Learned several things that night, one about pay phones -- I tried to use one outside a liquor store to request evac (unsuccessfully...but that's a different story).

    Ghetto pay-phones (at least the ones in Charm City) are a quirky testament to survival in the 'hood. Instead of sporting several rows of shiny, rectangular buttons, ghetto phones have tiny, cylindrical metal nubs (perhaps stealing numbers is a Baltimore pastime). Not only are such instruments swaddled in extraneous layers of steel armor, two thick steel bars are welded to the front to discourage folks from coveting the fistful of quarters within. The coin orifaces on these behemoths were miniturized to defelect wanton crow-bars.

    Vergil Bushnell

  • by Rura Penthe ( 154319 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @02:55PM (#281299)
    I, for one, love the payphone. It lets you make that oh-so-important call just after you're released from prison!

    "Hi mom, I need a ride home. I just got out of the county lockup!"
    "Oh my god honey, why were you there?"
    "Drinking and hacking again"
    "Oh son...I'm so disappointed..."
  • I do not mind payphones, but you got to watch out for those that charge insane amounts of money, owned by a small time high price company. alot of times, say in a corner store, there will be a payphone setup where the store owner gets a piece of the action. So out of each dollar charged, the owner might get 50 cents, etc. but the clerks play dumb.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of people who do not have cell phone, even now. So pay phones may still pay for themselves for a while. It may be easier just to leave them there

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • We still use paper books, even though some people can afford e-books.

    We still use generic drugs, even though some people can afford the name brand.

    Just because there is an expensive alternative some people can afford, that does not mean we need to eliminate the old ways. Hell, in most cases, the old ways are better.
  • by davejhiggins ( 188370 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:07PM (#281312) Homepage
    OK, so she used them a lot to keep in touch with the Nebuchadnezzar, but you never saw Trinity actually escape The Matrix through a mobile did you?

    No, you need a payphone to wire a hard line in to... if they all suddenly get taken away I'm going to get a lot more suspicious of the world than I was before I was that movie...

  • Actually, it's not because of the higher frequencies (800MHz for Analog, 1.9GHz for PCS) because pretty much anything above 50MHz is LOS (Line of Sight).

    What makes the difference is the POWER of the cell towers and phones:

    Analog cell phones: 600mW(max) for handhelds, 5W(max) for bagphones/permanently installed phones.
    PCS: 200mW for handhelds

    So with PCS, etc. you don't have as much power to "punch" through trees, buildings, etc.

    For more information on radio waves/ham radio go to http://arrl.org
  • ...or, more accurately, I've smelled them, back when I spent some time in the Big Apple. New York City may have something for everyone, but some of its residents desperately needed to be taught that a payphone enclosure is not a public restroom...

    My NexTel cellphone works from most anywhere, so I don't use payphones much anymore. But not everyone has a cellphone, and not every cellphone works well -- so I suspect the payphone (as communication device and as an impromptu urinal) -- will be around a bit longer.

    Scott Robert Ladd
    Master of Complexity
    Destroyer of Order and Chaos

  • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @02:53PM (#281322)
    ...it's like asking, "what with all the credit cards out there, do we still need paper money?" And the answer is, of course we do. So long as there are people who can't afford a cell phone, the pay phone will still be a vital necessity.

    I mean, geez, even the article says it: The point is that a significant number of people still use payphones, although that number has decreased to the point that British Telecom recently doubled the basic charge and is looking at ways to remake the booths into something sexier and more lucrative, like Internet kiosks. They're not making as much money as they used to for the phone companies, but they're not useless nostalgia items, either.

  • If the payphone dies because it is assumed everyone has a cell phone, it's a grave mistake.

    First, not everyone has access to technology. Heck, some people can't afford to get phone lines into their own house! Taking away payphones will only hurt them.

    Second, not everyone WANTS access to technology. I had a cell phone, and cancelled it about a year ago. Why? I didn't really need it. That $30/mo could go elsewhere, and I can just use a payphone for those infrequent calls I make from someplace other than my office or home.

    Besides all that, you don't want to take away kids' hobby of checking payphones for returned quarters, do you?

    Mr. Ska

    I slit a sheet
    A sheet I slit

  • ...even if we'd rather not admit it.

    Pay phones serve their purpose for both emergency calls, and for when the cell phone won't work. I think it's too early to pronounce them dead as well because telephone booths could easily be retrofitted to provide broadband access on the go (for laptops, for example), whereas portable/cellular solutions so far aren't widespread or reliable. (Ricochet still being 28.8 I believe in the Seattle area, where I live.)

    Of course, it's not like the phone company is hurting for cash from running them-- the rate hike from a quarter to $0.35 must have been a shot in the arm for their profits.

  • ??? payphone calls once cost a quarter ??? when was this? (is there a timeline of the (average?) price to use a payphone?

    Actually that's a semi-interesting question, I know that it used to be a quarter up until a few years ago (I think in the past two or three years) in the Washington state area. And obviously it used to cost a dime, but thankfully the rate hikes on payphone use aren't as fast or large as postage rate hikes (used to be cheaper to mail someone, now it's cheaper to just call them (practically)).

  • Use cash, dumbfucks, use cash!

    This is fine. Just do not use any bills $20 or larger, the bills have magnetic identification/tracking strips in them.

  • www.elcotel.com, or your local Graybar office.
  • You are absolutely correct. Law enforcement in the US cannot use evidence obtained in such a manner in court.

    But they don't have to. What they need is information (comings, goings, who is in, who is out, etc.) that lead them to evidence that they can present in court. Or even better, prevention of crime by having a few well-placed conversations or police presences. Saves paperwork, time, money, and heartbreak.

    You have to give law enforcement its due in this country. They probably prevent more than they catch, and do it on little enough.

  • by human bean ( 222811 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:29PM (#281341)
    This may be so for places that are rural in nature, but in any large town you can bet that payphones are monitored, one way or another. It depends on where the payphone is located:

    Court houses, jails, bars, schools, YMCAs, hotels, government buildings, and points of transit, plus stand-alone payphones in those "special" parts of town.

    In other words, phones where interesting conversations might take place. The local whorehouse phone (pay or not) is always monitored, but I have never seen a order on a public phone in a library.

  • by Alatar ( 227876 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:27PM (#281351) Homepage
    It's really more due to the fact that pay phones (Bell called them "public phones") are no longer considered a "public resource" the way they once were. A whole city block used to be able to use public phones to receive phone calls and whoever answered the ringing phone would usually be gracious enough to run to the next house to inform the callee that the telephone was for them. However, after deregulation, instead of getting a special pay phone line from the phone company, anybody could buy a fortress phone from a catalog (COCOT), connect it to a regular phone line (POTS), and start billing callers. These private owners did not want anybody to use their property without paying a stiff fee, and successfully used the "drug dealer office" argument to remove incoming call ability from virtually all pay phones, including telco-owned ones. This act really spelled the end for the "public resource" paradigm. Many COCOT owners also ignored regulations outlawing billing customers for toll-free calls, and after a while, people got used to the idea. Now, pay phones are only used by the poor, and everybody else has a cell phone for use on the go.
  • I had to pick up a friend of mine from work in Irving, TX one night and forgot my cell phone. When I couldn't find him waiting where he said he would be I looked for a payphone and could not find one. Apparently the city of Irving sees payphones as being magnets for drug users and got rid of all of them. I can't tell you what a headache it was not having access to a payphone. What should have taken ten minutes turned into a two hour ordeal. I wound up having to drive into the next town over and find a payphone in the bad (i.e. strip-club-section) part of town. Looking back, other than being really annoyed I was fine, but if it was my mother in the same situation then I would be pissed because she would have been in danger.

    In summary I think payphones need to be around and cities who rip them out because of potential "drug-abuse" need to be penalized in some way.

    As a side note: my friend later told me that Irving's official stance on payphones is that they're dangerous and unnecessary because anyone who belongs in Irving can afford a cell phone.
  • I agree that this is nice.

    But I dont use public computers to check my email or anything else that requires a password. I am even sort of worried about using a real address when using mapquest. Granted I am not a terrorist, but I am worried about those being monitored. No one needs to know unless I tell them. I dont want to have to read the EULA on the side of the phone so that I know it doesnt say that if I use the phone I agree to give up all my rights to privacy. I wouldnt use those phones but someone else might have to.

    How secure are those public terminals?

    Can the us gov monitor my use of data on those lines?

    Fight censors!
  • Except for the street-corner video camera that watches you enter at 8:37, leave at 9:20, and the evidence from the mail you sent arrived at 8:53 with a header indicating it passed through the internet cafe's servers. So stay later, send the mail at 9:30, and have a coffee and leave at 11:00.

    Or, write a script to send it 5 minutes after you leave.

    Or, send it from a hotmail account created earlier from an internet cafe.

    But what the hell was in this email anyways?!?

  • I see no practical reason for removing any number of payphones. Despite what commericals set in Mathattan displaying all new internet/communication technologies might indicate, not everyone has a cell phone. Sure, maybe more than you think, or maybe some who you'd think otherwise wouldn't, but not enough, by any means, to obliterate payphones. Think of moneyless minors, people who can't afford cell phones, people who don't like cell phones. On another important note, cellular phones are mobile, which have their disadvantages. What if you leave yours in your car or at home and you need to make an emergency call? Well that payphone you know about on 9th is still where it was the day before. Out of change? Dial a free call service just like they say on those repetitive money-saving call service commericals, one's bound to stay in your head. Statistics don't show how in some cases people are forced to use payphones for their respective reasons. If you want to think of it in a literal way: do you usually see a person in a phonebooth on the street while you're walking by one? Probably not. But if you want to buy a really popular product in a store that everyone is buying, do you always see huge crowds of people rushing in and taking every last one off the shelves? No, but that doesn't mean that that product isn't the best-selling in its field and the triumphant one over its competitors. Now I am not saying that more people use payphones than cellular phones, or that payphones are generally better than cell phones, but I am saying that more people use them than it may seem at first glance. Do payphones take up an excessive amount of space? No. Are they particularly harming anyone? No. Let the payphone survive in every city.
  • ...except that the telcos really are phasing pay phones out because they don't make enough revenue. (Of course, this may be in relation to newer technologies; which would you rather sell, two calls for a total of US$0.50 or one cell phone contract for US$40.00 per month?)

    As I suggested in another post above, it is obvious that pay phones are a good thing to have. And we're not going to have them soon. There has been plenty of info on this lately, planting the seeds of acceptability when it gets really hard to find one.

  • by localroger ( 258128 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:14PM (#281374) Homepage
    I think the consensus is that pay phones are a Good Thing -- handy in an emergency, and available for people who can't afford a cellphone, don't want one, or whose cellphone just died at an inopportune time.

    That said, it's a shame they are going the way of the dodo. Yep, they are.

    The problem is that, because of cellphones, pay phone use is decreasing. That means pay phones make less money. That means the for-profit corporations now running them will pull them. Simple economics -- if you're the only one in town who needs a left-handed three-pitch anchor screw, don't expect Home Depot to carry it.

    So without making anything like a general comment (heh) on the topic, let me just point out that this is one small area where capitalism is clearly failing. For all the evils of the ATT/Bell monopoly, it did subsidize necessary but unprofitable services like pay phones and hard to service local lines with the profits from more lucrative and voluntary things like long distance. Not a good thing if you're a big long distance customer, but a very good thing if your car just got jacked and you need to call the police.

    Considering the libertarian/capitalistic streak that runs through the /. community, it is kind of amusing to see this outpouring of enthusiasm over a service which is clearly going to die because the evil corporate pigs don't make enough money off of it. Pay phones are just one detail in the broad category of infrastructure which IMO really should be maintained by taxes and subsidies, because without some social engineering they just won't exist even though they are beneficial.

    Of course, the other possibility is that the cost of a pay call will go up. Some phones already meter local calls by the minute. But that's a spiral to doom; make the call too expensive and more people will spring for a cell phone, usage will go down more, you will have to jack the price again, etc.

    If someone has a solution to this that will not get called "communism" or "socialism" by the usual elements, I'd be very interested in hearing about it. Meanwhile, this is just one of those things that, to me, argue against the purely liberarian/capitalistic worldview -- whatever its other beneficial contrasts might be to the current overall situation.

  • What with all the hub bub about cell phones causing cancer, is there a risk that having a flipping cell phone antenna on top of the pay phone booth could cause problems? I mean, you'd have the things on street level basicly blasting out microwaves a few feet from the heads of hundreds of passersby. Saturate an area in those things and you're talking a sea of radiation.

    Or I could be completely wrong.

    This has been another useless post from....
  • I for one love the fact that payphones in some airports (LA, for example) now have little jacks so you can plug your laptop in and get your email from the departure lounge. I would like to see this a general trend... perhaps in the future we will see IR connectivity as well for true ease of use anywhere. Now if only every airport would consider the laptop user.

  • Hm... good points. Not living in the USA, land of Carnivore, I guess I don't immediately think of the EULA. But it's becoming an issue everywhere...

    Nonetheless, when I'm travelling with laptop and need to check my email, it's generally because I'm travelling for work purposes - a conference, whatever. If I need to do something work-related from an airport, I'm going to let the company worry about their own security. If they're concerned, THEY can spend the extra money to ensure I have a secure connection. If I were doing personal stuff, hey, that would be a different matter, I'd think about it then.

    But having thought about it, is data really that different from the vulnerabilities of payphones to voice monitoring? I wouldn't necessarily use a payphone to discuss important secrets by voice, either. OK, there are technical differences. But when you get right down to it, a payphone is a convenience, not a necessity - and like most things in life, it has down sides (privacy, security) to offset the convenience. You just have to be educated, and understand when to be careful. That doesn't mean I'd want see payphones eliminated, as this thread suggested may happen.


  • As a whacko, I fear cancer causing, mind controlling, alien lifeforce contacting wireless devices. I require payphones in order to contact other members of my militia. The fact that they are disappearing in my hometown of Albany is proof positive that the jewish-scientologist-communist-Micro$oft conspiracy has gotten to our beloved mayor jennings. First it was disappearing handsets and the bus station, then they were allowed to paint all the fire hydrants with that dangerous aluminum based yellow paint. How far will it go before they own us all?
  • Actually, the debate over a cashless society has been going on for a while now, but you're right, we still need both cash and pay phones. It'd be nice to see them upgraded to become public access Internet terminals, and maybe that will eventually happen, but they're still useful as they are, especially for people who can't afford or don't want cell phones or for those times when cell phones simply don't work.
  • by SomeoneYouDontKnow ( 267893 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:16PM (#281382)
    Yep, you're right. And besides, the drug dealers and prostitutes just got beepers and cell phones anyway.
  • Not only that, but if they get rid of pay phones, where will I get all my drugs and whores? How do they expect me to get drugs and whores without convenient payphones on the streetcorner?
  • by EvilStein ( 414640 ) <(ten.pbp) (ta) (maps)> on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @02:48PM (#281399)
    Here in the city I live in, pay phones were removed because it was alleged that all they do is draw drug dealers and prostitutes.
    I've never seen either hanging around..
    And to think all this time I was under the impression that pay phones attracted people that wanted to make phone calls. Imagine that! ;)
  • In other words, the push to remove pay phones is motivated mainly by the phone companies, who lose more and more money all the time as fewer and fewer people use them.

    It's not yet another case where the man!!! is trying to keep people down. It's a losing proposition in most of the places where the phone companies pull them out of. Do you seriously think they'll pull them from locations where they make good money?

  • by Tech187 ( 416303 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @04:00PM (#281404)
    Yeah. Let that be a lesson to you: Never wear your 2600 t-shirt to the cellphone store.
  • by Durindana ( 442090 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2001 @03:12PM (#281405)
    If you look closely at the push to remove pay phones, you'll find that it's motivated mainly by phone companies (especially mobiles) who want to eliminate public access to telephones. Sure, cell phones calls are cheaper, but you don't need a credit card to make a pay phone call - nor a $250 deposit. This is the same sort of business vampirism that makes phone calls from prisons cost several dollars per minute in some states through a monopolist phone provider. Probably few Linux geeks see the absence of available public telecommunications as a serious problem; but there are many more people stuck in relative poverty than checking out Slashdot right now. Pay phones, without a steady income or steady job, may be their only way of talking to their families, for example. For them a pay phone is worth a hell of a lot more than a data jack in an airport phone.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal