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November 20, 2012

Transforming the Pay Phone for the Modern Day

By Robbie Pleasant, TMCnet Contributor

Pay phones: for years, they’ve been considered outdated, obsolete, even antique. Occasionally jokes are made about how “at least phone booths are good for time travel and Superman changing clothes,” followed by complaints about how unsanitary the pay phones are. However, in the wake of Sandy, New York has found that its pay phones are not only reliable, but due for an upgrade.

In order to reinvent the pay phones for the era of the iPhone (News - Alert), the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication is beginning to gather information and award franchise contracts to improve them. It will start with free Wi-Fi availability, and expand into a solar-powered workstation. Those with mobile phones will be able to charge theirs, while touch screens will display maps and public service messages.

Of course, for those who don’t carry around a roll of quarters wherever they go, the phone calls will be free via the Internet. Sponsors will cover any expenses in exchange for playing brief advertisements, so people can make calls without having to scrounge around for loose change.

This might seem to eliminate the advantage that the pay phones had during Sandy, but traditional copper wire calls will still remain available. That way, if the power gets shut down, one can still make a phone call from those phones without worry.

There are some obstacles left, such as how to make the phones aesthetically pleasing, and how to get enough ad revenue. (As a personal suggestion, I’d recommend “themed” phone booths, utilizing iconic phone booth imagery, such as Clark Kent changing into Superman or Bill and Ted on their excellent adventure, but that’s just me.) In order to make them viable, the pay phones would need to be used daily, rather than in case of emergency, so they must be convenient and useful enough for that. It’s a gamble, but one the city is looking into.

When cellular service was knocked out across lower Manhattan, the pay phones remained operational. This is the city’s way of saying thanks. Improving public pay phones may make things even more convenient for those who forget their phones, or who have run out of battery life, or even need to find a map when lost in the city. There are many benefits to it, but there are risks to consider as well. Still, should they move forward with the project, it will be interesting to see how pay phones are transformed.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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