Qwest Communications pricing the poor out of calling home?
May 15, 2001 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Qwest Communications pricing the poor out of calling home? Citing the increased use in personal cell phones and an inability to maintain their fleet of pay phones due to lower usage, Qwest is raising pay phone fees to $.50. What about a phone call costs half of a dollar? To me it's like a restaurant selling a soda for $1.95--everybody buys it=an easy hundreds of percantage points profit.
posted by crasspastor (7 comments total)
Pay phones are increasing unpopular because everybody's going wireless. Yet there are definite needs -- especially safety concerns -- for having them stick around. Therefore rates are going up.

It beats the situation where BellSouth decided to get out of the pay phone business.
posted by Erendadus at 3:02 PM on May 15, 2001

From the article: Consumer advocates lamented the increase Monday but acknowledged that pay phones have been eclipsed by their mobile cousins.

And increasing the cost of pay phone calls will lead to more people buying/using mobile phones.
posted by jameschandler at 3:02 PM on May 15, 2001

Well, 50 cents is 23 cents in 1980 dollars, which is about when pay phone calls ... hit 25 cents. In 1990 dollars it's ... 37 cents. In 1960 dollars it's 8 cents, which sounds about right for when the 5 cent phone call started to disappear.

So, actually, it's pretty much kept pace with inflation over the last half-century.

There was that brief post-deregulation flurry around 10-12 years ago when there seemed to be more pay phones than people in certain neighborhoods -- sometimes in banks of half-a-dozen -- leading to several municipal ordinances and the like. Then the market for them collapsed and almost all the 3rd-party providers went away, and we were left with even fewer than before. You just can't count on pay phones being there anymore, which is the main reason I finally allowed myself to get a cell.

There was a short period where I lived in a YMCA between apartments, and the pay phones there were on a third-party contract. The operators frustrated all attempts to use my AT&T calling card. You could not dial 1-800-CALL-ATT, nor could you use 10-ATT dial-around. Both practices were blatantly illegal, but FCC enforcement was lax. The only way to get through was to call an operator, and ask them to put you through to AT&T manually. They would do this but there was an ear-splitting beep that was inconsistent enough I suspected they were actually using an air horn against the mouthpiece, right there in the call center. In other words, "May I be connected to AT&T?" would be followed immediately by holding the phone as far away from your head as you could reach.

Well, maybe that's not exactly on topic, but it's winning material, isn't it?
posted by dhartung at 4:22 PM on May 15, 2001

Yes it is, Dhartung. Winning material. =)

The reason why payphones have lost popularity isn't cellphones alone. Payphones were losing popularity years before. When the classic phone booth was phased out, which buffered outside sounds and protected the caller from the elements. The decrease in dependable phone books with the phones, and other issues usually caused by vandalism or inconsiderate prior users of the payphone itself. Upkeep and replacement of all these damaged or dated phones was not cost-productive. Deregulation, introducing undependable fly-by-night third-party carriers, made the usage of payphones even more difficult. And of course the fact payphones have gone from a nickel to ten times the price, plays a part too. I say the sooner payphones go the way of eight track tapes, the better.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:35 PM on May 15, 2001

For what it`s worth, Japan or at lease Tokyo, which has an extremely high concentration of cell phones, also has (seemingly) abundant payphones. No link because I don`t feel like looking.

However, many of these are in booths and cell phones are often out of range in subway stations.

I wonder if there`s any correlation between mass transit and pay phones / person or between population density and pay phones / person.
posted by chiheisen at 9:30 PM on May 15, 2001

It probably correlates more with socialism than anything else.

Back home in the US, I'd be very surprised if the progressives let telcos weasel out of providing public phones entirely. As the pastor notes, even this rate increase will adversely affect those who can't get a cell phone and can't afford phone service for their home (or don't have a home to put their phone service in). I would expect to see a proposal for a mandated charge on all residential and business phone lines to subsidize public phones, much as is currently done for 911 service, from the left any time now.

And you know what? I'd probably support it... you never know when you might be in a situation where you desperately need a public phone.
posted by kindall at 9:41 PM on May 15, 2001

One way or the other Qwest does well for itself. It's the quintessential win win for them (I say them. I mean shareholders. My father works for Qwest and will see none of the bounty). Think of how this raises Qwest stock value. Imagine the shareholder meetings where they've run down the increase of "just" fifteen cents will amount to "this much" in your portfolio--or "Qwest shareholders stand to gain this much". Qwest recognizes as some of us here do, that there will always be people in need of a payphone. . .but their guffaw is that none will call it for what it is. Company cogs have doubtless talked about it, perhaps snickered a bit at who this will adversely effect most. Indeed them, and most of us can afford the $.50 it will take to make a quick, battery's-dead phone call. But there are some days I don't even have the fitty-cent myself. Most corporate profit it seems, comes from squeezing the little bit from the poor that they do have (Link to review of great book by the way). Regardless, Qwest will be insulated somewhat from such criticism as everybody has to make a payphone call once in awhile.

To deflect any potential argument, though I do hear the point that $.50 being equal to $.08 in 1960 I have to say this:

The poor or people without sufficient means found eight cents then and as they do now fifty cents, hard enough to get ahold of, and add up to something "real" they can buy. At the laundromat one dollar will buy five or so gallons of hot water and the electricity it takes to wash a load of clothes. $1.80 will take me a mile in a taxi (highly inflated luxury price). $.99 will get me a fatso burger at Jack in the Box. In the subsidized transit systems of most cities $1.25 will take you wherever you'd like to go. The way they've rigged the phones these days it is impossible for a down n' out dad who wants to call his daughter on her birthday to conserve his fifty cents when the answering machine picks up.
posted by crasspastor at 11:35 PM on May 15, 2001

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