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Requiem for the Disappearing Pay Phone 559

StarEmperor writes "This Washington Post article describes the steady disappearance of pay phones as cell phones become more commonplace. Many pay phones, which used to generate hundreds of dollars per month in revenue, are now used so infrequently that they cost money to operate. I wonder what kind of environmental hazard is posed by junking thousands of pay phones?"
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Requiem for the Disappearing Pay Phone

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  • where can I get one? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dknight ( 202308 )
    What if I, say, want to buy these payphones they're throwing out? I'd love to have an ACTUAL payphone in my house or something.

    • You've never seen those start-your-own-business things with payphones?

      Put them anywhere! tons of revenue!

      Check it out! []

    • by rickthewizkid ( 536429 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:45PM (#4985684)
      They are available online, ebay, etc. The only trouble is, they have been "adjusted" to not require coins. If you were to want to make it a real pay phone, you would need the totalizer circuitry (not something the phone cos want to have in the wild ... look up the term "red box") and a ACTS phone line - convincing the telco to do that for you would be difficult....

      Just my 90-cents-for-the-first-three-minutes-worth...
      Ric kTheWizKid
      • aren't the best way to win the support of the administration.

        It isn't hard to replace the handset with one that has a sereo jack for a pda/ipod red box. I know, I know, I know: it isn't really a red box unless you solder it from scratch, but still a cool idea.

        Disclaimer: This is neither a confession nor a suggestion. I am not admitting to any wrongdoing, accompliship in wrongdoing or premeditation of wrongoing.
      • by DeadSea ( 69598 )
        Indeed, if you search, there are quite a few pay phones [] on ebay. Pretty impressive.
    • I'm not sure where you are geographically, but over here in the UK the old red phoneboxes would be far too heavy to install in a house without major reinforcement for the floor. I'm guessing they were solid steel/iron, with about a million coats of paint each over the graphitti/urine ;-)
    • You evidently didn't read the part about people urinating on them.
  • by Lieutenant_Dan ( 583843 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:41PM (#4985650) Homepage Journal
    Without pay phones pictures the back cover of 2600 will seem sooooo boring.
  • by benfoldsfan ( 242486 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:42PM (#4985655)
    they cost less. $.50 cents for one phone call is ridiculous
    • Amen to that. I recall in korea that the pay phone calls were 10W (I think 1100W=$1, so its like pennies per call), and the phones would "save up" the credit from one person to the next. I don't know if they were subsidized, or even if they're still there (haven't been in 10 years, and EVERYONE carries a cell phone now). But if payphones were like $0.10 for local, and $0.05/min long distance, they might actually get used
    • by neema ( 170845 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:52PM (#4985717) Homepage
      This should be modded up.

      That was such a stupid step to take, unless they were looking for everyone to add just one more thing to the list of the benefits of having a cell phone. Payphones always have had two advantages in my mind:

      1: They are wired, hence, no fuzz.
      2: Just one shiny thing and you could get a call through.

      Now that it's 50 cents, I find myself approaching a payphone and finding that I don't have the right amount of change on me. Who cares that it's unlimited? The three minute limit was just fine by me. I'm not exactly making leisure calls at a pay phone. The trade off is ridiculous and is bound to doom the payphones.
      • PayPhones are good (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ackthpt ( 218170 )
        If, like me, you don't have a cell phone, payphones are a good thing.

        Payphones have all but disappeared around London, since so few calls are made on them and almost everyone has a cell phone. This trend started years ago. When I was last in London cellphones even worked down in the Tube.

        One thing disappearing payphones would mean: One more parking place available at finer gas stations and 7-11's everywhere.

      • by stickyc ( 38756 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @04:33AM (#4986918) Homepage
        One thing to add - I'm not sure if this still applies (I was told this in the mid 90's), but in California, Pay Phones have 'priority' over other phones in case of emergency. This means that if there's some major catastrophy (IE - earthquake for us CA folk), the phone in your house may not get a connection, but the pay phone usually will.

        This is, of course, dependent on the connection. If you buy one from EBay and stick it in your house, you'll get the same busy signal as the rest of us while the china falls from the cupboards.
        Just something to note when the stuff hits the fan.

        • I was in Manhattan on 9/11/2001 and I know that there were lines at the pay phones everywhere. My cell phone and landline were down most of the day, but I assume the people on the pay phone were getting through to their loved ones?
    • by hitzroth ( 60178 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @12:22AM (#4986114)
      Quote: the last two paragraphs of the article:

      For some, the pay phone has become untouchably déclassé.

      A woman at the Old Ebbitt Grill was asking strangers if she could borrow their cell phones one recent evening. She systematically worked her way through half the people seated at the bar, none of whom had cell phones to lend. Finally, she reached Hayden, who was sipping a beer. He suggested she use the pay phone he maintained in the restaurant. She haughtily replied: "I wouldn't be caught dead using a pay phone."

      Somehow, I don't see the cost as being the primary issue. If you need to make a call, $0.50 isn't that big of a deal. Hell, it's about half a candy-bar around here.

      It sounds like it's becoming a social stigmata to use the urine soaked payphones. As in: "I don't want to look like I'm not good enough/rich enough to have a cell phone."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:42PM (#4985658)
    Where will Clark Kent change into his Superman costume?!
    • ... And HOW will the folks in Matrix get back to their ship when chased by the Agents?
    • That was actually a hilarious moment in the first Superman movie- Clark Kent was rushing to change into Superman for his first "public action" (saving Lois from a helicopter disaster) when he stopped and briefly glanced up and down at one of the half-booths common in NYC nowadays (and back in the 70's when the film was made).

      It obviously didn't fit his requirements, as he went on to a revolving door which he spun at super speed to blur his transformation (which seems moot, after opening his shirt in the middle of a crowded street to reveal the Superman "S.")

      Oh well, it's NYC, err, Metropolis-- no one would notice unless he was doing something abberant, like being nice or polite...
  • by rickthewizkid ( 536429 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:42PM (#4985659)
    ... all the spilled oil, gas, antifreeze and other automotive gook from the accidents caused by people using their cell phones while driving...

    ..."Just hang up and DRIVE!"
    • by kevcol ( 3467 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:52PM (#4985721) Homepage
      I only agree if the cell user is not using a headset and using a phone with special hands free dialing features. Otherwise, we might as well ban conversation between 2 or more occupants of a car.
      • by Yo Grark ( 465041 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @02:58AM (#4986638)
        I'd agree with this EXCEPT that a person talking to the driver knows when the driver has to concentrate on something coming up and instinctively SHUTS UP.

        Concentrating on Talking while driving actually distracts people from driving well. Bad drivers can often be seen doing all the talking while driving. Basic natural instinct, you cannot devote concentration power to upcoming events (getting cut off and allowing the extra space) and hold a full blown 2 way all out conversation.

        Drivers do their best thinking/working shit out because the mind is alive with activity while driving, just don't ask them to concentrate on a conversation with someone else.

        Think about it the next time you're driving :)

        Yo Grark
        Canadian Bred with American Buttering.
      • Hands-free sets do not make driving while talking on a cell-phone any safer. See this paper [] from the New England Journal of Medicine for details. Basically, they cross-correlated traffic accident reports with cell phone logs and found that talking on a cell phone while driving quadruples the risk of getting in an accident, regardless of whether or not the phone is hands-free. This increased risk of accident is comparable to the increased risk of accident while driving drunk.

        The difference between talking on a cell phone and talking with a passenger is that the passenger is aware of the driving situation and can halt the conversation and/or call the driver's attention to the road in case of emergency.
    • Hmm. I've never seen a payphone equipped automobile. Is that part of GM's On* offering?
  • by Znonymous Coward ( 615009 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:44PM (#4985673) Journal
    Maybe they could replace them with Suicide Booths :)

  • by Marton ( 24416 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:44PM (#4985679)
    ... payphones are great to have in an emergency - and there are tens of millions of people in the US w/o a cellphone.

    The real question is: are they going to keep operating those phones that lose them money? Should payphones be thought of as something essential like public transportation, and possibly subsidized by the govt?
    • ... payphones are great to have in an emergency - and there are tens of millions of people in the US w/o a cellphone.

      If you just want the convenience and safety though there are tons of plans for pay-as-you-go. Buy some minutes up front and leave it around for an emergency. If you just need it for 911 then just get someone's old disconnected phone like the battered women's shelters do for people since they can still dial 911. Now, as I think about it, I've not used a payphone since I got a cell phone. Hell, I never have any change for the payphone anyway and it'd be easier to just borrow someone else's phone for a minute if you're in a group and give them a buck or two for the convenience. Payphones carry diseases and god knows what else on them. It'd be like putting a public urinal up to my mouth when you make a phone call. No thanks!

      • Buy some minutes up front and leave it around for an emergency.

        That doesn't work with any of the prepaid plans I've looked at in an effort to supply one less outgoing monthly revenue stream to the telecommunications industry.

        If you just need it for 911 then just get someone's old disconnected phone like the battered women's shelters do for people since they can still dial 911.

        This works, although the cell phone companies would rather it not be general knowledge.

    • by newt ( 3978 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:50PM (#4985973) Homepage
      Should payphones be thought of as something essential like public transportation, and possibly subsidized by the govt?

      They are in most countries (either directly as a public service, or indirectly as a consequence of the fact that the Government usually owns the phone company).

      It's only in the US that payphones depend on the corporate whim of a for-profit company.

      - mark

      • by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @01:23AM (#4986382) Journal
        They are in most countries (either directly as a public service, or indirectly as a consequence of the fact that the Government usually owns the phone company).

        It's only in the US that payphones depend on the corporate whim of a for-profit company.

        You make it sound like its a bad thing.

        Why should my tax money go to help someone loser make a free phone call?

        I don't have a problem with the government installing emergency phone booths that are wired to 911 for things like that, but I'll pass on footing the bill for someone else's calls... they get enough of my money as it is!
        • by Corgha ( 60478 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @03:41AM (#4986750)
          Why should my tax money go to help someone loser make a free phone call?

          Uhh.... who said anything about free calls? They're called pay phones for a reason, you know.

          If you're OK with installing and maintaining phones that can call 911 for free, why not also let people put money in them to call other numbers while the phones would otherwise just be sitting around, doing nothing? They'd be hooked up to the phone network anyway, since a dedicated line to the 911 call center would be needlessly expensive.

          Sure, maybe those pay calls would be in some sense "subsidized phone calls", but much less so that a car ride just about anywhere is a "subsidized car ride." Somehow I doubt that the cost of subsidizing pay phones would ever come close to that of the massive pork barrel that is the federal-aid highway system (or that we'd ever invade Kazakhstan to secure our chromium supply for those cool little keypad buttons).

          That, of course, is the original poster's point -- that perhaps pay phones should be considered a part of the public infrastructure.
          • Uhh.... who said anything about free calls? They're called pay phones for a reason, you know.

            The original poster intimated that other countries pay for the phones.

            Setting that aside for a moment, even if the government only paid to maintain them, that is much more maintenance than an emergency phone.

            If you're OK with installing and maintaining phones that can call 911 for free, why not also let people put money in them to call other numbers while the phones would otherwise just be sitting around, doing nothing? They'd be hooked up to the phone network anyway, since a dedicated line to the 911 call center would be needlessly expensive.

            - Emergency phones don't require as much hardware. They can be a single button you press and talk into a microphone, like what appear on many campuses across America.

            - Emergency phones don't need to be stopped by every day to gather the change.

            - Emergency phones don't need to be repaired as much because they're not used as much.
  • Recycling impact? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Codex The Sloth ( 93427 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:45PM (#4985682)
    I wonder what kind of environmental hazard is posed by junking thousands of pay phones?

    Ummmm. How about approximately 0? How many pay phones per person? Like 1/100 at best. Now think about all of the diapers and soda bottles and old tires and other crap that people throw out without thinking. There are things worth worrying about and then there is the noise.

    As for getting rid of pay phones, I'm fine with it. I mean, when was the last time you saw a working pay phone?
    • by MacAndrew ( 463832 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:55PM (#4985996) Homepage
      I wonder what kind of environmental hazard is posed by junking thousands of pay phones?

      How about junking hundreds of thousands or millions of cellphones. Plus the batteries each unit may go through in a lifetime. There's no way those things last as long as a nice clunky pay phone. I know we have a couple of dead ones around here somewhere, and a lot of people upgrade simply for fashion or features.

      Yes, people are looking into recycling the phones. It's difficult because the materials are so heterogeneous, and though a few like tantalum are quite valuable, the labor to break up the phones can outweigh that. A nicer idea -- hand-me-downs [] to less wealthy developing countries, for sale or parts. Cellular phones have a disproportionate value in countries that never got the telephone line infrastructure in the first place.
  • by Jon Abbott ( 723 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:45PM (#4985685) Homepage
    When I recently opened the Back to the Future DVD trilogy and watched the second movie [], there was one scene where Marty Jr. was using some kind of futuristic-looking pay phone. I laughed to myself and said, "I guess they didn't see the end of that one coming!"
  • A lot of the young kids here on /. will be saying - 'I'm old enough to remember payphones'...

  • Pay phones still have some use... doesn't anyone watch The Sopranos?

  • Payphone Disposal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by newt_sd ( 443682 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:46PM (#4985690) Homepage
    How come this always gets brought up on slashdot?
    How is junking old phones any different then any other waste? Are there uranium pay phones out there? Admit it the u.s. wastes tons pay phone is a tiny tiny part of a very larger picture
  • Environment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Z0mb1eman ( 629653 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:46PM (#4985691) Homepage
    >I wonder what kind of environmental hazard is posed by junking thousands of pay phones

    Probably not worse than the millions of home phones that break down or are replaced by newer models. And DEFINITELY not worse than the millions of cell phones - and proprietary batteries - that are starting to be thrown out (what was the statistic I read? Kids in Japan who keep up with "fashion" replace their cell phone every 3 months, and in North America every 18 months? I know, I know, no link, no proof, etc... whatever.)
    • Re:Environment (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Patik ( 584959 )
      the millions of cell phones - and proprietary batteries - that are starting to be thrown out ... Kids in Japan who keep up with "fashion" replace their cell phone every 3 months
      How about the phones that are thrown out when someone changes plans and the new service provider forces them to buy one of their phones?
  • Too bad.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FuzzyMan45 ( 451645 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:47PM (#4985695)
    the payphone out in the Middle of Nowhere already disappeared. Here [] is a link to the going-away of it and why. Basically, the National Park Service and the Mojave National Preserve thought that there would be too much environmental impact if the booth remained too much longer.

    • That is too bad, and I can understand why people are so upset. Like the article says, the fact that the number still rings seems especially cruel.

      But the last line of the article really caught my attention.

      "If I had to do this all over again, I would do it very differently," he said. "I would keep it very, very quiet."

      This I don't understand at all. Sure, the Pay Phone in the Middle of Nowhere is gone, but there are still many functional pay phones out there.

      Why not pick an arbitrary payphone on some New York street corner, and start calling it? And don't keep it quiet, either--publicize it just as much as the first one. It's bound to be interesting, and fun, even if it isn't the same as calling the original phone.

      Better yet, he could have a "pay phone of the month": select a different arbitrary pay phone each month. Imagine the people flocking to call it, and the people flocking to answer it.

      It's a simple concept, but I don't think he's even begun to explore its full potential. The original phone had a certain stark beauty to it, but it should be viewed as the beginning, not the be-all and end-all. The end will come when there are no pay phones left to call.

  • by dolphinuser ( 211295 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:47PM (#4985697)

    [Superman showing Lois around the Fortress of Solitude ...]

    Superman: "Lois, we're finally alone"
    Lois: "Oh, Superman, I've dreamed of this day for so long"
    Superman: "Like they say in AOL, 'Me Too' "
    Lois: "This is so perfect...wait...what's that smell?!?"
    Superman: "Oops, I'm sorry, Lois, since they took out all the payphones, I have to use dumpsters to change clothes..."


  • by wackybrit ( 321117 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:49PM (#4985701) Homepage Journal
    A similar story to this ran through the British press just over a year ago. The national telecoms provider (British Telecom - BT, for short) was feeling the pinch of cellphone use, and its payphones were bringing in less and less coin.

    Their answer was to fight back with 'improved' payphones, which were basically mini Internet kiosks. Many payphones in British cities are now these kiosks. You can still make regular calls, but you can also access numerous services like HotMail, etc.

    The thing is, I don't know if it's the way to go. I've never seen anyone actually use the Internet facilities on these, and I certainly haven't.

    Don't you have an alternative problem in the US though? That is, your cellphone coverage is absolutely awful, and payphones are still needed in most rural areas. It sounds like a good reason to keep them, but.. just don't go over to costly kiosks. They're a waste of time.
  • by red_dragon ( 1761 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:51PM (#4985713) Homepage

    Just how common are pay phones, anyway? At least around here in the US Northeast Corridor, there happen to be at least a couple every few blocks, usually clustering near freeway interchanges (because there's always a pay phone at each gas station). Given their ubiquity, I'd guess that telcos could extract some more life out of the old beat-up pay phones by repurposing them as wireless access points or some kind or another, or lease the space for someone else to do it. Just as long as Verizon doesn't put out a new ad asking 'Can you ping me now?'...

  • by Yorrike ( 322502 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:51PM (#4985715) Homepage Journal
    Without the streets being lined with pay phones, where will the heavily intoxicated sociopaths vomit and urinate?

    The main problem with public services such as payphones is other people use them, and I'm not one who likes getting near that kind of "interface". One of the reasons electronic (ie filthy-cashless) POS transactions get the thumbs up from me.

    The problem with Payphones is more than just their stupidly high price, it's hygiene too.

  • I hope she remembers that right after she is mugged, brutally beaten and raped in an alley. I'm guessing she'll be glad to see one then. Oops! Where did they all go?

    I'm thinking that payphone operators are making it harder to get a call thru, and subsequently lose your 50 cents. I came across a phone that took 1.50 from me on busy signals! No other phone was to be found (this was a half mile from the U of MN)

    I was pissed. If I had been driving my big shitty van, I would've GTA'd the fucker in a heartbeat. Enjoy my illgotten buck fifty, phone bastards.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bell Canada has announced that they are converting some of their thousands of pay phones into 802.11 access points to extend their new WiFi service offering. WiFi-only companies like FatPort [] would be wise to follow suit. PayPhones are in the best possible locations for WiFi -- think AirPorts, hotel lobbies, train stations...

  • by Milinar ( 176767 )
    No more of a threat than everyone having to buy a new cell phone every freakin' year.

  • ... People are using the payphones less, therefore demand has gone down so price has gone up. My cell's battery went dead the other day and I needed to make a local call, so I headed to the payphone, $0.55 to make a Local 2 minute call!!

    Think about it, that's 25 cents a minute, most cellular phone contractual plans are LOWER than this price.

    Here's the irony of the story, I didn't have any change either, so I stopped a gentleman to ask him for some change to use the phone, he said he was on his lunch break and had no problem with me using his phone.

    I think the saying "everyone has a cell phone" is wrong, but not so untrue, like the computer most people have at least one in their family, if not three or four.

    Moral of the story, I got a car charger now and don't try to see if the lithium ion battery can hold a charge for more than 4 days. Totally off topic but motorolla's new phones with a Lithium Ion battery are hella nice and last a rather long time (just not longer than 4 days).

    In closing of a long post, it's the price of the payphone that has made them less appealing, and what gets me even more is most of these phone companies who supply payphones ALSO have a division that supply celluar phones. So they really aren't "losing" money as a whole, just certain departments.

    I say more emergency solar based Cell Phones Stations on Highways, Interstates, and Rest Stops because technically Cell Phones have to be free when dialing emergency numbers, and being solar you can put them anywhere.

    I'm sure "phreakers" and 2600 will be upset though...

    • Here's the irony of the story, I didn't have any change either, so...[snip]

      Hmmm don't you think payphone use has gone down because people can't be bothered to carry change? I sure as hell don't... and hell with pulling out my credit card and typing in 20+ more digits. In the convenience society in which we live, the payphone is altmodish.

  • Why not just turn them into toilets, and handy pinboards for ladies of the night to ply their wares? Oh wait...
  • by adamp3 ( 555665 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:59PM (#4985759)
    They should convert them into WiFi hotspots [].
  • I wonder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alethes ( 533985 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:59PM (#4985761)
    How will we make anonymous calls without a payphone?
    • Re:I wonder (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OttoM ( 467655 )
      How will we make anonymous calls without a payphone?

      1. Go to a phone shop (or supermarket, or toy store, anywhere)
      2. Buy a prepaid phone.
      3. Make your call. Do not forget to switch off sending caller ID.
      Here in the Netherlands (and the rest of Europe) a very large part (>50%) of mobile phones are prepaid. No subscription or ID required.

      If you are under 18, you cannot get a subscription, so you'll have to use a prepaid phone, or convince your parents to get a subscription for you.

  • Rather than throw out all those pay phones, I think it would be much more interesting to see them reused. Perhaps as 802.11 access points or something. Just replace the phone with a digital pay box with an antenna on top. Simply swipe your credit card, hook into the network, and roam around with 20 or 30 minutes of wireless access.
  • limited coverage (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tr0tsky ( 207672 )
    There are still vast regions of the country that have limited cell phone coverage, especially for newer networks that provide high(er)-speed wireless data services.

    I recently switched cell phone providers from Verizon to T-Mobile so I could utilize their GPRS/GSM-based wireless internet service on my laptop (~115Kbps) using my new bluetooth-enabled phone. While CDMA coverage in the U.S. is rather extensive, the GPRS networks that AT&T and T-Mobile have deployed are still very much confined to highly-populated regions of the country.

    There I was in Westchester County, NY (about 50 miles N of Manhattan) trying to locate a client's office and imagine my frustration when my brand new GPRS-based phone was out of range. I had to stop at a supermarket and find enough change to call from a payphone - it saved my day.
    • Re:limited coverage (Score:2, Interesting)

      by John Murray ( 149 )
      Lets not forget there are still vast regions of the us with NO cell phone coverage at all. If you actually look at many providers coverage maps, in much of country you will only find cell service along interstates.

      If mobile phones become even more common, it might be time for the government to step in and force cell companies to provide true national coverage with decent capacity for calls. One way to do this could be, placing requirements on building permits for new cell installations, requiring as condition of approval. The other problem is many cells are all ready overloaded with normal call volumes, hopefully additional requirements could be made to force cell providers to have extra capacity, for emergencies, etc.
      • Why on earth should the government regulate this? It seems similar to suggesting that as rail transport becomes more popular, the government should force national railroad coverage. Or that the government should force the telcos to deploy true national broadband coverage.

        How about this: as cell phones become more popular, the service providers will accumulate enough revenue to put in more cells and better capacity. As cell phones become more popular, the demand for coverage in remote areas will grow, until it becomes good business to put cells out there.

        Once the demand is high enough, the providers will increase the coverage freely, without government intervention, because they know people will pay for it--enough people to make the added coverage profitable.

        And if the demand isn't there yet, but the government forces the issue anyway? Who will pay for it? We already know the consumers won't pay for it, because if they would, the phone companies would have done it on their own. We know the providers won't want to pay for it, since they know that without demand they'd only be losing money. So the government would have to pay for it--which means we'd have to pay for it. My taxes would end up paying for a cell deep in the Ozarks that nobody wants or needs or cares about. Or the government would convince the providers to pay for it after all, probably with subsidies (my taxes, again), or concessions that would grant the providers even greater power to exploit the citizenry--the citizenry that doesn't even want true national coverage yet.

        Or the government might entice cell phone providers with subsidies--and the caveat that the Office of Homeland Security have administrative access to the cellular networks. "The bad news is, you must provide true national cellular coverage. The good news is, we'll give you taxpayer money to do it, and make a profit. But we get to listen in on everybody's calls."

        This country has gotten along pretty well without true national cell coverage so far, and it can probably manage to muddle along a few more years until the market is mature enough to make such a thing plausible without government interference.

        Argh. I'm rambling on in an increasingly belligerent fashion. My point is made, so I'll stop now, before I become completely insufferable :)
  • by foonf ( 447461 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:02PM (#4985779) Homepage
    I don't really use the telephone a whole lot. I've never seen a need for a mobile phone, and part of the argument against one went kind of like this: Well, if I'm stuck somewhere and I really need to get in touch with someone, I can always use a pay phone. And if its not important enough to spend 35 cents I really don't need to make the call anyway. I guess not eh? At some point in the future I might have to spend $(minimum cell phone cost) every month just to get the same service I would have formerly gotten from the once-ubiquitous (and free if I don't actually have to use them) public pay phones.

    The same thing happened to rail transit in most American cities about 40-50 years ago as road systems improved and more people bought automobiles.
  • by John Murray ( 149 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:03PM (#4985785) Homepage
    This is bad news for all the people who can't justify paying $30+/month for a cell phone. With ubiquitous pay phones in case of emergency, knowing you could find a near by pay phone. From this article, it could soon become very hard to find a pay-phone when one is needed. This will be big problem for the lower middle class, who can't justify paying for a cell phone, but live areas, where cell toting yuppies, have caused most of the pat phones to be removed. The poor may be less effected, as, according to the article, phones in poorer areas are still profitable.
    • Considering that 911 is a toll free call I doubt any phone companies will become altruists and put up phones that say "Homeless only" on them.

      They can still shout for help and run to nearby businesses. I doubt the impact will be large but who knows.
  • by jpt.d ( 444929 ) <> on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:07PM (#4985807)

    How can the government ensure your security if you use public pay phones?

    Use your cell phone, or get one! That way your phone records are just a computer away from the people protecting your safety.

    Do not assist the Terrorists!
  • by Gus ( 2568 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:09PM (#4985821) Homepage
    Most pay phones lost money like a sieve. The decline of the enclosed phone booth came about due to the high incidence of they being used as toilets; the local Bell technicians wanted nothing to do with repairing a smashed phone in a small enclosure reeking of urine.

    In general, pay phones were mandated by public safety regulations, not profit motive. Problems ranging from smashed handsets to stolen phone books to smashed window glass plagued public phones constantly.

    If pay phones were profitable, why did the Baby Bells allow anyone to start running them? It would have been a very strange business decision given their history of profiteering in the post Ma Bell era.

  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:10PM (#4985822)
    Reasons why payphones are better than cellphones:

    • Payphones don't ring in movie theaters
    • People don't drift into your lane and cut you off because they're yakking into a payphone
    • Brain cancer isn't even a remote possibility with payphones
    • Sometimes you find a dime in a payphone's change slot
    • With a payphone you can call people collect for free
    • Payphones aren't obsoleted in a year just because they can't take stupid pictures or haven't shrunk in size by a factor of 3
    • Payphones are the safest option if you're up to no good
    • Receiving calls at payphones is convenient (or used to be before the drug dealers screwed it up for everybody)
    • No long term commitment or credit check with a payphone
    • Payphones don't ever have to come with you on vacations
    • When the payphone doesn't work, you go to another payphone instead of navigating an automated touch tone maze
    • No static with a payphone

    I could go on and on... it will be sad to see the payphone go. I swear I could strangle the jackass who actually took a call in the theater during the Two Towers last week.

    • Reasons why payphones are better than cellphones:

      You forgot "You can't untraceably dial a spammer's 800 number from a cell phone."

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:46PM (#4985965) Homepage Journal
      I swear I could strangle the jackass who actually took a call in the theater during the Two Towers last week.

      Why didn't you? Seriously, you paid 8 or 9 bucks to enjoy the movie and you shouldn't put up with some inconsiderate fucktard yacking on his cell phone. Demand, loudly and belligerently, that they hang up (feel free to use the word "fucktard." I like it.) and if that doesn't work, pick a fight with 'em. At the very least you'll get your money's worth of enjoyment out of beating them severely (Or being beaten severely, don't back down even if they're bigger than you. Once you go down that road there's no turning back.)

      Most people don't want to get in a fight so I doubt it'd ever come to blows anyway, and the audience will think you're a hero no matter the outcome. It's up to us all to stamp out the scourge of cell phones users in the movie theater.

      And yes, I walk that walk, though since I pay my tribute to the MPAA as rarely as possible I've only ever had to demand that someone turn their phone off once (It was G or PG so I said "jackass" and not "fucktard" -- see, I'm considerate!) and didn't even have to threaten physical violence. He hung up, politely watched the movie and cleared out of the theater almost before the credits hit the screen. I hope the experience was traumatic enough for him that he will be more polite in the future.

    • by Crag ( 18776 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @12:10AM (#4986059)
      • People were irritating in theaters before they had cell phones. There have been people talking, having big hats, having big hair, being fat, having crying children, having body odor and everything else ever since we've gathered in groups to enjoy things together.
      • People have been bad drivers since long before cell phones existed. Don't blame the phone for the driver's irresponsibility. People shave, put on lipstick, argue with their children, get drunk, you name it. Cell phones are not the problem.
      • There is no conclusive link between cellphones and brain cancer. The wall-powered microwave ovens people use everywhere have far greater capacity to do real damage to people than the battery-powered 7-days-without-a-charge cell phones. We actually know what microwaves do to flesh. We do it to food and water all the time. There hasn't been a problem with microwave ovens, much less cellphones.
      • Sometimes one finds change in the couch. One rarely finds change in one's significant other. The comparison is meaningless.
      • Emergency calls on a cell phone are always free. If it's not an emergency, why are you calling collect? Are you just cheap? Or are you making an emergency out of something that could really wait?
      • Cell phones aren't actually obsolete in a year just because etc. Some people are sheep who will buy anything with a bigger number or cuter design. I've had my phone for two years, and I would have had my previous phone for five if I hadn't given it to a friend as a present. Computers are 'obsolete in a year' just as much as cell phones, but I bet you would rather have a two-year old computer than your very own payphone. Again the comparison is meaningless.
      • Yes, payphones ARE the safest option if you're up to no good. So what?
      • What's convienient about getting calls at payphones? Standing around waiting? The lack of privacy?
      • There are cell phones which can be had with no long-term commitment or credit check. They're not cheap, but they exist.
      • Cell phones don't have to come on vacations either. If you think they do, you need better friends. I like having a cell phone wherever I go for convienience, but it's a choice I make, not an obligation.
      • Yes, when the payphone doesn't work, you walk/bus/hitchike/taxi to the next one. YAY.
      • My cellphone has excellent reception. It's better than a lot of people's home land lines. If you've had bad experiences, it's probably because you or your friends are cheap, as mentioned above.

      I could go on and on too. I swear I could strangle the jackasses who confuse the tools people use with the stupid things they do with the tools. I could also strangle the jackasses who have cellphone envy and try to mask it as some kind of superiority.

      I work hard to make sure I have the resources to live the kind of life I want to live. I want the ability to stay in touch with people I go shopping with so we don't have to agree to meet at the food court. If my girlfriend is in a car accident again, I want her to be able to reach me as soon as possible. If there's an earthquake and I'm trapped in a building, I want to be able to call for help and tell them I'm alive but bleeding and running out of air. If I'm on an airplane and hostages take over with box cutters, I want to say goodbye to my girlfriend before the plane runs into a building.

      I'm tired of anti-cellphone BS. There are no legitimate complaints against the phones themselves, and the complaints about the users have nothing to do with the phones.

      Grow up, people.

      • by iiioxx ( 610652 ) <> on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @12:56AM (#4986303)
        People were irritating in theaters before they had cell phones. There have been people talking, having big hats, having big hair, being fat, having crying children, having body odor and everything else ever since we've gathered in groups to enjoy things together.

        I agree. It's not that the cellphones themselves are bad, they are just one more tool for people who tend to be rude and inconsiderate (the same type of people who talk, wear big hats, and don't bathe). Blaming the technology for the way it is used is total bullshit.

        I often carry my cell phone in movies and restaurants, but I put the ringer on vibrate. If it rings, you have to be right next to me to even hear it buzz. I check the caller ID, and if it's someone I absolutely need to speak with I answer it, and quietly tell them to hold while I step out of the theatre. If not, I let it go to voicemail and check it after the show.

        Are there a lot of phones that don't have vibrate? Or just a lot of people who don't care about irritating the people around them? I think it's less an issue of invasive technology, and more an issue of a culture of self-obsession.

        Case in point:

        I was in a theatre this past weekend. Outside the auditorium there was a bigass sign that said "Cellphone Free Zone". During the trailers, there was an announcement to turn off your cellphone. But sure enough, halfway through the movie, a cellphone rang in the row behind me, and the woman not only answered it, but sat there and carried on a conversation. No doubt, the woman felt she was above any petty social convention, and she was too important for the "rules" to apply to her.

        At this point, I lost my patience and decided to teach her a lesson about social convention. I stood up, turned around, and announced loudly, "turn off your phone or I will whip out my dick and piss on you!" I think she thought I was kidding until I reached for my fly. Then she told the caller "gotta go" and just hung up. I said, "thank you for your cooperation," sat back down, and tried hard not to ruin the moment by laughing my ass off...
  • Wonderful. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DwarfGoanna ( 447841 )
    I can't stand cell phones, I don't need or want one, and I don't plan on getting one now. Maybe I have become truly die hard cynical, but this smacks of another case where I am being herded into buying something I don't need, because the public (read free or optional) alternative was taken away from me. I am so moving to Canada or Australia.
    • You're not being herded anywhere. If you don't need a cellphone, as you say, you're all set. Having payphones available is not a right. It came into being because it made economical sense. There were enough people willing to pay for calls to make payphones feasible. They're not written into the constitution. They were just a convenience. Now there aren't enough people willing to pay for them. Why should they want to? Cell phones are more convenient, cheaper over the long run, and ladies tell me the vibrate feature really comes in handy. (I just made the last one up... ladies don't talk to me)

      Anyway, quit your whining.
  • by Xipe66 ( 587528 )
    Maybe it's time for a new topic for mods to vote on "How appropriate, in the slashdot tradition, do you think this article/news item is?" Meaningless and/or uninteressting stuff are more and more frequent on the slashdot frontpage (or maybe I should change my profile to display less entries?).

  • Many pay phones, ... are now used so infrequently that they cost money to operate.

    You mean I've been putting my money into them for all this time for nothing?!

    Seriously though, perhaps if phone companies want to perpetuate the phone booth they should do more stuff like this [].

    Sure, it can't be that good for profit, but it's bound to increase the popularity. But if you want to increase profit, there was a scheme a few years back where people listened to an advertisement at the start of a call to increase telco revenue. I've never seen (or heard) this done. Why not?
  • I'm still a little bitter that I can't pop in a quarter and call when I need to.
    Honestly the only time I really ever used payphones was from high school to call mom to pick me up after sporting events.
  • Most ANY cellular phone that's properly charged and within range of a compatible tower may be used to call 911...NO service plan of any kind is required...none!

    There are even various organizations that collect old cell phones and distribute them for emergency 911 use.

    In fact it's against the law for a carrier to knowingly block any 911 cellular call regardless of the tower(s) (assuming it's compatible with the phone being used) it's routed through nor the phone its dialed from.

    Bottom line is that absolutely NO service plan of any kind is necessary for 911 access and thus the "we need to save pay phones for 911 use" is a mute in regards to Clark Kent/Superman...not sure what he'll do now :;
    • That's really what was missing from that show "Lois and Clark".
      Not ONCE In a phone booth!

      I mean they went at it on the ceiling, in outer space, on clouds above the city, but not ONCE In a phone booth!
    • "we need to save pay phones for 911 use" is a mute argument"

      Hate to nit pick, but this one really grates on my nerves. The word you want here is moot, not mute. Mute means unable to speek, moot means without significance. My wife does this and it drives me stright up the wall.

  • by phr1 ( 211689 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:40PM (#4985940)
    San Jose Mercury story []: hundreds of mailboxes removed from San Francisco bay area, due to low usage, garbage thrown in mailboxes, fear of more anthrax attacks, etc. etc. I can't help worrying about all anonymous means of communication shutting down.
  • by Effugas ( 2378 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @11:59PM (#4986019) Homepage
    Pay phones would make more money if they, like, accepted lots of it, in large denominations, when being begged to.

    Oh, do I have a rant for y'all.


    Gather 'round the pixels, folks, and let a still green traveller relate a story from the olden days...

    End of September, actually. Toorcon -- I flew out to San Diego to join Hikari's bad ass hackfest. Was so excited that I'd actually gotten my degree three days previous (not -- but that's another story entirely) that I didn't even think to check *where* in San Diego I was going.

    Lesson #1: For f*ck's sake, know where you're going after the airport.

    Figured I'd just check the net when I got there. *laughs*

    Lesson #2: For f*ck's sake, KNOW you'll never get a net connection when you really, really need one. (Reference: "The Inverse Square Law vs. The Presence of Microsoft Powerpoint: May The Enemy Never Discover The Network Cloaking Power of Talking To People When Powerpoint Is On")

    So. Rumor has it San Diego's Airport got a new water fountain's talked about in hushed whispers, the emergency budget excess of 1983 brought a quenched thirst upon every traveler since. According to legend, other plumbing amenities relating to the invention of running water shall someday visit themselves upon this fine structure.

    No friendly arrows, no Internet Cafe's -- and though the Starbucks served coffee, it came in Disass only. There wasn't even a poorly secured baggage handling network waiting to provide me with my next stop (not that I'd ever poke around an airport network; for God sakes lad, they have guns! And Latex Gloves! I plead Joey's Soverignty!)

    So what could I do? Went to call my apartment.

    On a Pay Phone.

    Lesson #3: For f*ck's sake, buy a cell phone. Seven Eleven has them. They're FREE(after many rebates you'll never recieve). There's a REASON they're so profitable -- because PAY PHONES NOW SUCK.


    You want proof? My previous ranting is insufficient to show that I indeed know large scale suckitude when I recognize it in my cold, not quite dead flesh?

    Got some overpriced food. Requested change in quarters -- I was off to the telephone to get fully ripped off, but there's a LOT of hotels in SD and I didn't much prefer to check each one.

    "Bzzzzzz. I'm sorry, this phone doesn't accept coins for long distance calls."

    Lesson #4: Remember how you heard that pay phones weren't making money? They mispelled "taking".

    After bitching and moaning, I remembered I could charge my card to my credit card. Yes! Maybe my legal tender, unconstitutional to refuse (but we'll ignore that) couldn't get me moving, but surely the mighty power of Visa -- it's everywhere I want to be, and I want to be in a nice bed, and in that, anyway.

    "Thank you for calling 1-800-CALL-ATT. For a credit card call, press this number or we'll sic Carrot Top on you."

    "Thank you for selecting a credit card call. If you have a Mastercard, press 1. If you have an American Express, press 2. If you have a Discover Card, press 3. If you have a Visa, get a very strange look on your face."

    "Thank you for getting a very strange look on your face. An operator will be with you shortly to further refuse payment for services."

    You have to understand. I just graduated, I've got a LONG trip ahead of me -- this is right before the Singapore trip -- of all the problems I imagined possible, not having enough to pay for a single phone call was rather disconcerting.

    I briefly considered my options for having myself placed under arrest. I hear those guys get a phone call. But then I realized their call is on a pay phone too. Oops.

    Ended up calling my mother's company on their 800 number, tail between my legs, begging for info off a single web page. You'd THINK it ends here...

    'cept the person I reach, despite the net connection on her desk, doesn't particularly know what to do with it. So she calls her husband. To access the net. For me.

    Ever browsed the web through a listener that doesn't know what she's hearing but has to translate it into something she's saying? You Will, and the company that will bring it to you...

    Anyway, no reason to rant further -- it was one heck of a trip, an absolute blast -- but indeed, no matter what country I ended up in, the pay phones were as spastic as an epiliptic monkey with a broken pacemaker.

    I did like the 90 second pay phones, that took 75 seconds to establish a call. talkfastdoesn'tevenbegintocoverit

    Needless to say, I am now vastly more knowledgable about that which is GSM.

  • by coupland ( 160334 ) <> on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @01:00AM (#4986314) Journal

    If pay phones were run by the record industry...

    1. Cel phones would be illegal because they give you all the benefits of a pay phone but through a new, uncontrolled medium.
    2. Every time you placed a call you would pay a tariff to support the money lost due to illegal use of cel phones.
    3. Phone companies would be appealing to the government to subsidize lost revenues due to low demand for pay phones.
    4. You could buy your own cel phone through approved channels but it would cost twice as much as a pay phone even though they cost a fraction as much to make.
    5. There would eventually be thousands of approved cel phones on the market but they would all look the same, they'd work the same, and if you didn't want the same thing as everyone else you'd be called a thief for not buying it anyway...

  • by Maeryk ( 87865 ) on Tuesday December 31, 2002 @10:11AM (#4987730) Journal
    I would imagine not nearly the environmental hazard posed by all the cell-phone people who upgrade their phones each time a new plan comes out with a free phone. Pay phones do not, that I know of, have batteries in them, and are fairly recyclable. (Aluminum, or in older cases, cast iron cases, which translate nicely to melting down). The plastics are recyclable as well.

    The fact that large companies (like phone companies or even large corporations) are now being watched closely when disposing of potentially dangerous materials (including computers) means they will probably be stripped, recycled, or waste-reclaimed in China somewhere.

    Not many of these phones would hit landfills as "phones" at any rate, unlike the thousands of Cell Phones that people tend to toss out like household garbage, complete with batteries, etc.


"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"