Payphone time has expired

awileman@sierrastar.comOctober 8, 2013 

Over the past decade hundreds of thousands of payphones have been removed from locations all over the country. As payphone revenues decline, due to the largely growing number of cell phone users, more and more phone companies are removing payphones from their list of services.

Following the introduction of the first pay phone in 1889, by William Gray at a bank in Hartford, Conn. the demand for payphones grew astronomically to a total of more than 2 million at there peak usage in 2000. However, according to the American Public Communications Council the amount of payphones in the U.S. has diminished to less than 500,000 and most are owned by Payphone Service Providers (PSP's).

The scary truth for some members of the Mountain Area is most of the payphones being removed across the country are located in small-rural towns where they are more commonly necessary and where users, who rely on payphones as their phone are suffering.

On Oct. 28 Local service provider, Sierra Telephone long distance, will remove the last payphone in the Oakhurst area, located outside CVS, due to the growing issues of upkeep, vandalism, and the fact that public payphones are being used less often then ever before.

Sierra Telephone Business Development Manager, Dan Rule, said since it is no longer a requirement for telephone companies to have payphones, they are becoming more of a retail operation and people are shifting the way they communicate.

"We have been gradually taking out the pay phones because it is no longer a viable business.......We know from our records that very few people are using them and their is a minuscule amount of usage," Rule said.

Rule has worked at Sierra Telephone for 22 years and knows how important payphones can be to people, however he says the business cannot continue to lose money on a service few people use.

"It no longer makes economic sense to have payphones, because they're hardly ever used and they are just not producing any income like they used to. People simply aren't using payphones anymore, they are using their cell phones," Rule said.

Over the years payphones have become 'useless' to many people who use house phones, cell phones or the Internet to communicate with friends, family and businesses. But with cell phone bills sometimes exceeding $100 a month, not everyone has the ability to provide themselves with these costly services and for those who rely on payphones as their form of telecommunication, payphones are a necessity for social existence.

Following the removal of the city's last payphone, citizens like 55-year-old Chris Huber, of Oakhurst, will find himself without a source to make long distance calls.

Huber who says he has been using pay phones for countless years, even though he owns a cell phone, does not have service to provide cheap long distance calls. Huber says the payphone is the only way he can keep in touch with his boss, girlfriend and government services.

"It's going to have a huge impact on me.....now I have to pay more for my cell phone and what happens if I lose my cell phone? I can't afford a new one," Huber said.

Another member of the community, Michael Curtiss-Landers, was waiting patiently in line to use the payphone outside CVS and expressed how important the phone was to him.

"We have a big population of homeless that use that phone ... I know because I've been one of those homeless," Curtiss-Landers said. "I walk up and down the hill and this is the only phone I have to contact my grandmother, and to let the outside world know I'm okay."

It's common, especially in rural areas, that pay phones remain the only affordable means of communication for many poor people. Free calls can be made when contacting social, government agencies and reporting emergencies to 9-1-1.

Another issue with the removal of payphones include accessibility in the time of an emergency such as natural disasters or car trouble.

Payphones seem unnecessary to most people until there is an interruption with their cell-phone service which can happen during bad weather or a natural disaster or when their cell phone battery dies.

At times like these the reliability of copper-wire payphones becomes relevant to people who would ordinarily ignore and write-off payphones all together.

During Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012, New York City saw a dramatic rise in the usage of payphones. In some instances they saw an increase of more than 10 times the amount of calls normally made.

During the disaster of Sept. 11, 2001 many people used payphones to reach loved ones when they were unable to use cell phones because of the amount of traffic steaming across the network.

According to an article written in the Daytona Beach news-journal Bruce Renard, executive director of the Florida Public Telephone Association, agrees that although they are not used much anymore, payphones can make the difference at the time of an emergency.

"It's like the old saying, 'You don't know what you've got until it's gone.' Public telephones are still relevant, important and affordable," Renard said. "There's still a role for them out there. They are a communications safety net. At times of emergency, they become vital."

In order to cope with the removal of payphones, Rule recommends people locate new inexpensive ways to communicate including pre-paid phones.

"In an emergency they should go to the nearest business or residence and ask to use their telephone to call 9-1-1. For casual use they could consider purchasing an inexpensive pre-paid cellular telephone," Rule said.

Because the cost of pay phones outweighs the revenue, companies like Sierra Telephone seem to have little to no choice but to rid themselves of the costly expenditure.

Now the burden of the cost of payphones will be passed to individuals and businesses who believe they need the phones and will implement them outside their business.

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