What’s Up With Old-School Payphones?

I’m not just a gonzo tech blogger of international renown, I’m also a fantastic photographer not afraid to use words like bokeh and f-stop. Let your peepers run up and  down this saucy little number:


Yeah… that’s the stuff.

But enough about me. As I was  recently pointing my world-class DSLR at this curious setting, I got wondering how many payphones might still be in use. Like really in use as legitimate payphones, not new-fangled Wi-Fi hotspots or little library thingies. Given my command of The Google, I set out to find the following semi-interesting factoids on the topic:

  • There have been a lot of articles written on how many legitimate payphones are still in use, with a lot of conflicting information
  • The total these days likely ranges in the neighborhood of 200,000 in the US
  • Around 7,500 of these are in New York City (again, lots of conflicting info- this is my educated guess)
  • Calls placed from these phones number well over a billion per year
  • Local calls are generally twenty-five or fifty cents
  • Long distance rates are supposed to be posted on the phones, and surprisingly are often much cheaper than cell rates (even to foreign countries)
  • 911 calls are free
  • No payphones give change- they don’t have the mechanisms to figure out and dispense change

So… who uses payphones (other than prisoners in jail)?

  • It’s estimated that over 12 million American homes have no telephone service of any kind
  • As many as 130+ million adults in the US have no cell phone
  • Payphones do well in immigrant communities
  • Some cities subsidize payphones because they are extremely reliable, and tend to survive the worst natural disasters when cell networks are crippled
  • Airports, truck stops, train depots and the like have payphones that see a lot of use by the above mentioned groups, along with travelers with dead cell phone batteries or who lost their phones along the way

And there you have it! The next time you’re out photographing old phone booths, you’ll have all of the answers to those heady questions that are bound to pop into your noggin.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “What’s Up With Old-School Payphones?

  1. James A

    Telstra (the Australian former government monopoly telco) has recently outfitted most of its payphones with WAPs to create a nation-wide hotspot network in partnership with Fon. The catch is you need to be a Telstra wired broadband customer and agree to have your home CPE broadcast the hotspot too.

    You’ve also been able to SMS from them for nearly a decade now.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Thanks for that, James. I’m good with all of that except for the compulsory home thing- this is where ISPs cross the line, in my opinion.


Tell me what YOU think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s