Payphone decline seen locally


Some of the existing pay phone locations in Pine City, L-R:  An abandoned phone booth downtown, an abandoned  payphone on Main Street, an abandoned payphone near the freeway, and a working payphone near the freeway (one of the few remaining operational payphones in the city).

The traditional payphone booth still holds a hallowed place in American culture. Who can forget Clark Kent dashing into one to transform into Superman or reporters racing into a booth to call in a breaking story?

Technology enthusiasts have written them off, yet there remains a need for public pay phones, as demonstrated during the blackout that paralyzed much of the Northeast in July 2003.  As long as there are people who can’t afford extended phone contracts, there will be a need for single-use phone capabilities.  That could prove especially important in areas such as Pine City, where incomes are less and there exists a greater share of people living in poverty.

Recently, the city was made aware that several of the payphones around town have vanished, leaving abandoned, blighted locations dotted throughout town.  There’s no denying the decline in public phones across the U.S.  Five years ago, there were 2.1 million coin-operated phones in the U.S. By 2003, that number had dwindled to 1.5 million, according to the most recent figures from the Federal Communications Commission.  That year, U.S. pay phones generated $1.06 billion in revenue, less than half the $2.22 billion generated in 1999. Some believe those numbers have fallen even further, with the number of phones as low as 1.3 million.

However, according to the American Public Communications Council Inc., a trade group that represents independent pay-phone operators, call volume has held steady in recent months.  City staff intends to notify the pay phone companies about the abandoned locations and work with them to see if they can either be re-established as a viable, maintained phone location or completely removed to eliminate the blight that they have become. Certainly, the number of pay phone locations that will remain in Pine City will be based upon demand and it will be interesting to see what happens.