11:51am

Thu October 13, 2011
Planet Money

Does Anyone Still Use These?

Originally published on Thu October 13, 2011 8:30 am

When is the last time you used a pay phone? The last time I can recall was about 15 years ago when I used the pay phone at the local library to call for a ride home.

Even as their numbers have dwindled, a trade group representing the industry says the phones still process around 1.7 billion calls per year. That's enough for one California company to bank on their future. The WSJ reports that Pacific Telemanagement Services has agreed to buy 50,000 pay phones from Verizon:

PTS has built a business by snatching up unwanted pay phones at airports, Wal-Marts and 7-Eleven convenience stores. The Walnut Creek, Calif., company, which has 200 employees, operates roughly 44,000 pay phones in more than 40 states and processes 100 million calls annually.

"People tend to forget about pay phones, until their cellphone doesn't get a signal, until there's a natural disaster," Mr. Keane said. "We want to make sure there's a future with pay phones where Americans need them."

"Basically anywhere you can ring up an average of about 100 calls per month, you can be profitable," said Willard Nichols, president of the pay-phone trade group.

But don't count on these pay phones staying purely phones, PTS's website pushes the new Eclipse Internet Payphone, which "transforms the payphone to a full social networking, web access and interactive advertising appliance."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.