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Businesses Communications The Almighty Buck Technology

Payphones Still Make Millions of Dollars (vice.com) 142

From a report on Motherboard: Disruption-y tech companies like Uber and Twitter are a big part of "the discourse" and our daily lives, but neither of them make any profit. You know what once-groundbreaking technology doesn't have any problems making bank year after year? That's right, it's payphones. Most people now have a cell phone, so you may have wondered who still uses those rusted, quarter-eating boxes. As it turns out, a lot of people do. According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's 2017 monitoring report, payphones in Canada made $22 million CAD in 2016 (this figure may not account for the cost of upkeep, but the CRTC has stated in the past that payphones are "financially viable at current rates.") That's spread out among nearly 60,000 payphones in the country, which made roughly $300 per phone over the course of the year. That's at least a few calls per day, each. The US numbers are similar: The FCC reports that in 2015 payphones made $286 million, which is comparable for a population ten times the size of Canada's.
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Payphones Still Make Millions of Dollars

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday November 13, 2017 @01:08PM (#55541327)

    'nuff said.

    • 'nuff said.

      Maybe, but I think they prefer burner cell phones to pay phones.

    • The way you can tell is the message, "Insert one Bitcoin for the next three minutes..."

    • I don't want a cell phone but I still want to make the odd call

    • That's funny, in my town the cops get warrants to listen to the pay phones that are most commonly used for drug deals, and even though the newspapers report on it, they still bust lots of people that way.

      The NSA may be listening to your phone calls, but they don't give a rats ass about drug dealers or that type of thing. The danger for the drug dealer is twofold; you might call from a phone they're otherwise listening to, or they might already be listening to the dealer's phone. If they're already listening

    • They used to, because law enforcement couldn't just listen to all conversations made on it since non-dealers use them too. Well, police and lawyers went crying to the courts about having to respect civil rights, and lo and behold the courts found yet another drug exception to the constitution, and nowadays police can simply tap any payphone they wish if they say it's known to be used by dealers. Now a lot of drug dealers are stupid and don't know this, but the big guys and the smarter ones do, so they're no
  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Monday November 13, 2017 @01:10PM (#55541341)
    Not everyone has a phone and if you don't, you basically can't even get a job. Libraries have computers and wifi. Buses take you places if you don't have a card. Why don't we allow basic telephone services to people without access to one? So yeah, leave a couple around town.
    • Just get a basic Android Phone (or iPod touch) and get a VOIP number. Works everywhere that you have WiFi, which is more ubiquitous than pay phones these days. I know quite a few people who do this. I really only pay for service because I like having mobile internet. If I was only paying for talk/text access, I would probably opt for just using VOIP over WiFi.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We do have programs for people who can't get access

      https://www.fcc.gov/general/lifeline-program-low-income-consumers

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        and if our current administration has their way, those programs will fizzle away into nothingness. they've already capped the low-income internet program; at a level far too low to meet demand.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by jellomizer ( 103300 )

          If our current administration has its way 2/3 of the US population would be killed, because we don’t like him.

      • That's for home only. The payphone is necessary for those without phones who are outside the home. So you won't find them in hipster neighborhoods, but you may find them in the poorer parts of town.

        Looked at a local list of payphones, and I see some inside of pizza places, gas stations, at train stations, bus stops, outside the 7-11, university dorms, etc. There's even one outside of a Fry's Electronics store.

        And those mobile phones, especially the newer ones, suck through battery life very quickly. Whe

    • Why don't we allow basic telephone services to people without access to one? So yeah, leave a couple around town.

      We already do, they can get their Obama Phone [youtube.com] ......

      I still get tickled at this....

      • LOL right, the Clinton Phone program that was extended to cell phones by Bush.

        I guess it is an "Obama Phone" because that is more "politically correct" than just shouting the N-word.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Card? :D

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, hold the whole world up for "one meeeeelion dollars!"
     
    You can't even buy a ranch house in Hayward for "millions of dollars" anymore.

    • Noted. Since it isn't worth picking up that change off the ground put me down for the $286 mil/year in the US please. Even just one year would be cool with me. Thx.
      • $286M is revenue, not profit. The profit is just enough so that it isn't (yet) worth removing all the pay phones. But new pay phones are not being installed, and broken pay phones are often removed rather than repaired.

        • The phone companies destroyed ALL the payphones around here several years ago.
          • That's what happened here too. They have put wifi in the little shelter, and as a customer of theirs I get 1 GB per day of "free" internet access.
        • Most businesses will kill of profitable ventures, when there are more profitable alternatives to choose from. Pay phones may make a profit. But if they can use their staff and resources into something more profitable they will.
          Pay phones need maintenance, take up property. For the person to fix these they could be laying out fiber or fixing an office.

    • You can't even buy a ranch house in Hayward for "millions of dollars" anymore.

      1. Ranch houses in Hayward are overpriced
      2. Dollar purchasing power is too low

      Pick at least one.

  • by bill.pev ( 978836 ) on Monday November 13, 2017 @01:12PM (#55541363)
    To avoid certain roaming charges [abroad]
    And, for contact with my clients wanting a dime bag or two.
    feel me?
    • You'll have to pay a lot more than 10 cents if you want me to feel you

  • by javakah ( 932230 ) on Monday November 13, 2017 @01:12PM (#55541367)

    My understanding is that there is some really questionable pricing/gouging for phone calls from prisons.

    I'm really wondering if calls from prisons are included as part of their numbers here.

    • This was exactly my thought. You beat me to the post.

    • you have a collect call from a inmate this call costs $5 for the first minute and $1 each additional minute

    • by Anonymous Coward

      would have to be. I used to operate a Pay phone business with a good friend. At first the money was great, then it was only good. about a decade ago I got out because I was sometimes spending more in repairs and maintenance then I made, on top of the dwindling number of people who even wanted pay pones on their properties. My buddy continued on for another 3 years until he also got out of the business telling me it was next to impossible to make a profit in the age of cell phones. simple but true is

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Canadian here.

      I spent 3 weeks in a Canadian hospital getting quadruple heart bypass surgery.
      My out-of-pocket cost was $750, all for 30 long distance calls home that I made using a credit card.
      That's an average of $25 per call, and no one had to collect coins.
      The rates and prices were not disclosed. I only found out when I got home and received the bill.
      Pay phones in hospitals in Canada are not regulated and Bell Canada sub-contracts the billing to a third party operating in another province, that in turn i

      • I spent 3 weeks in a Canadian hospital getting quadruple heart bypass surgery. My out-of-pocket cost was $750, all for 30 long distance calls home that I made using a credit card.

        Why didn't you just take and use your cell phone?

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        Pay phones in hospitals in Canada are not regulated and Bell Canada sub-contracts the billing to a third party operating in another province, that in turn is a subsidiary of a company based in the USA.
        Try taking that one to court.

        It is regulated by the CRTC. You're supposed to be given a rate flyer when you come in for long-term stay. That's a violation of the patient-trustee relationship with the hospital board. You 100% can take that to small claims court to recoup the costs of it.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      I'm really wondering if calls from prisons are included as part of their numbers here.

      Maybe, you can buy phone cards from the canteen when you're in prisons here in Canada but the "local rates" are still supposed to apply otherwise. On top of that the phones must accept discount LD services(which the canteen is supposed to supply), something Bell and other phone ops don't get a cut of. Those companies are buying time in bulk, so it's already paid. On my route home, I can still count dozens of payphones through the cities I drive through. There's also payphones at nearly every convenience

  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you kidnap someone are arranging an exchange for a briefcase of cash, a payphone is a necessity. I've seen several documentaries about this.
  • $300 per phone per year is a horrible rate considering the amount of capital involved. That doesn't even account for all expenses. Compare that to vending machines. I wouldn't be surprised to see the profit from all vending machines over the US or Canada to be well over a billion dollars per year.

    • really depends on upkeep costs today vs how long the phones have been there. some have been there for 20+ years
    • The concept you are missing is 'sunk cost'.

      In some rustbelt shithole, there are warehouses full of old, perfect condition payphones.

    • also get collect call fees and calling card fees from the phone with out having to collect coins from the phones.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    equals $25 per month.. which is far less than what telephone companies charges for the phone line to hook up a privately-owned pay phone. *that's* why pay phones have been pulled from most of the u.s.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      equals $25 per month.. which is far less than what telephone companies charges for the phone line to hook up a privately-owned pay phone.

      Going by my last Bell Canada bill, you'd be spot on. The local charge was $32.85.

  • Obvious question... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday November 13, 2017 @01:30PM (#55541537)

    What are the numbers for pagers/beepers like?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ouachiski ( 835136 )

      Higher than you would think. A lot of vending machines use them to report inventory to whoever is keeping them stocked.

      • A lot of vending machines use them to report inventory to whoever is keeping them stocked.

        Last time I checked, two-way pagers weren't exactly cheap. Do modern machines use SMS instead?

    • You would not imagine my shock when my partner got a job at a (major, high-level) hospital and was issued a pager.

      • Still SOP at big academic centers, as I noted elsewhere. People come and go every year, so building a comprehensive and up-to-date phone list is a challenge. Residents come from all over the country, so unless you're going to open up unlimited nationwide calling from every landline in the hospital, you won't be able to call most of their numbers without long-distance authorization (which is going to be granted, but will be annoying for a nurse who has to get it ten times in a night). A pager has great servi
  • It's so cute that Canada still has payphones. I'm also imagining Canadian switchboard operators with permed hair.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm imagining your mom with spermed hair.

    • Even the summary says that the US has them too.

      • Even the summary says that the US has them too.

        Try to find one. A working one.

        • If I could find one... 33 Memory Pocket Tone Dialer and a 6.5536 MHz crystal! I would redbox the shitout that fucker... for nostaglia's sake!
        • Oh, I couldn't tell if they were working without putting in a quarter... But I do see some, and there are web sites that list where they are. Yes, some are in bad shape.
          This could be wrong, but it's not me that's lying to you it would be the FCC.

  • Dur (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 13, 2017 @01:46PM (#55541671)

    How else are you supposed to get out of The Matrix?

  • At $300 revenue per pay phone per year, do the owners of the pay phone make any money? Ultimately its the profitability of the pay phone service that will determine if the pay phone stays in use or not.
    • At $300 revenue per pay phone per year, do the owners of the pay phone make any money? Ultimately its the profitability of the pay phone service that will determine if the pay phone stays in use or not.

      You're thinking of a COCOT (Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephone), not all pay phones were COCOT's. Most payphones were owned by the carriers themselves and not by the property owner.

      • by tatman ( 1076111 )

        You're thinking of a COCOT (Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephone), not all pay phones were COCOT's. Most payphones were owned by the carriers themselves and not by the property owner.

        Maybe. I think it will still apply though. A carrier still has to pay for the telephone either by building it themselves or buying it from a mfg. They still have to support the operation of it. All of that incurs costs including labor. In the case of a carrier owned phone, they probably have to pay some form of rent to landowner where the phone is located. In the case of pay phones in public places like parks, they probably pay a fee back to the gov.

  • Wasn't there talk of replacing payphones with payphone/WiFi hotspot hybrid units? Whatever came of that?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 13, 2017 @02:20PM (#55541943)

    Southeastern US here, and people are saying payphones are almost extinct.

    It's not true though. Why, just the other day I heard a great whooping commotion in the back 40 late one night. Looked outside and there's a blue phone box. Wasn't there yesterday, so I suppose the phone company installed it. Strangely, as I looked, a good half dozen people came piling out of the thing. I have no idea how they all fit in there, unless they were maybe practicing for a world record or something. They all rushed off somewhere seeming to be in a huge hurry.

    Well, last night again there were a lot of odd whooping sounds and the phone box is gone now. I suppose the phone company must have installed it in the wrong location by accident and gone to move it wherever it should have been to begin with. Go figure. Not the most competent of folks.

    Point is: public phones are still around.

    • That's a police box. It's different than a pay phone.
      • For those that don't know, a police box was where you beat up and shut somebody in you didn't like and waited for the police to come pick them up. A pay phone is where you go in a booth, put in a quarter, dime, or nickel, and make a call.
        • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

          Not quite. A police box had a phone on it (on the outside) that you, as a member of the public, could use to call police. The inside was for use of the police, including (but not limited to) detaining prisoners until they could be transported elsewhere.

        • Dime, I can recall (though mostly through phrases like "drop a dime", as it was a quarter by the time I used them in any frequency)... how long ago was the nickel?
          • You can watch on old Andy Warhol movies and the like, they used to have 3 slots for dime, nickel, or quarter. Each gave you a set amount of time. I searched for "old pay phone" on duckduckgo images and pretty well every picture is of this model. http://farm4.staticflickr.com/... [staticflickr.com]
            • That's definitely an ancient one. Never saw one of those in the wild. IIRC, and judging by the text that tells you to put money in after the caller answered, this was the style that could call for free - but you had to pay to activate the microphone. I heard they had these in rural New York until the early nineties.
  • Payphones must stay because insurance rates go up if there are fewer places for superheros to dress in high crime areas.
    • The super heroes cause more damage the. What the vilan would do if allowed to complete their evil plot.

      Oh he was going to steal an object with 10 million dollars. To stop him the superhero had destroyed 100 million dollars worth of property.
      Normally a mega robot will just walk down the street of a metropolis, however when a hero gets involved building get knocked down, how many people die from this?

  • also: pagers

  • ... could they post their tart cards [wikipedia.org].

  • How's the Machine supposed to make emergency contact with Finch and Reese without payphones on the street?
  • $300 a year is less than a dollar a day which is less than two local calls a day as it's $0.50 for a local call on a payphone in Canada.

    Don't forget that it's an average of $300 a year. Some phones are going to be used a lot more while some are hardly used (most likely installed because they have to be and only used when nobody has a cell phone).

    • What surprised me when I visited Montreal was how many payphones there were. Here in the UK you rarely see more than one at any given location nowadays. In Montreal there were literally rows of the things.

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