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Pay Phones Pay Price Of Progress

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Like drive-in theaters and record players, pay phones may soon be a thing of the past.As more and more people use wireless phones, companies are getting out of the pay phone business.

What is the future of the pay phone? That depends on who you call. To some, it is an American icon.

"You can't watch a movie where there isn't some pivotal scene where somebody's on a pay phone calling somebody, you know," said Vincent Townsend, president of the North Carolina Pay Phone Association.

The line may soon go dead as companies, like BellSouth, get out of the pay phone business.

"You have everyone walking around with wireless phones and that has had a great impact on the need for pay phones due to the convenience of everyone carrying their wireless phones," said John McKinney of BellSouth.

"The reality of it is that more than half of the people in this state still don't have one. And when they're moving around, they've got to have pay phones," Townsend said. "They're going to be harder and harder to find."

While many travelers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport carry cell phones, others have no choice but to pick up a pay phone.

"Well, I don't think it's a good idea at all because I don't have a phone and I'm going out of the country," traveler Paul Tivnan said. "I don't have a cell phone. I left my computer in the car. I had to call my family to bring it back to me or I wouldn't have had it for a year. So I think it's a bad idea."

Bad idea or not, the change is already under way. Companies are already pulling out pay phones, saying it is a matter of dollars and cents.

"People are going to continue to vote with their feet and their pocket books. With technology today, they have found a much more convenient way to communicate," McKinney said.

Callers Tivnan do not want them to go.

"No, they shouldn't. That would be a bad idea. Very bad idea," he said.

McKinney said BellSouth is trying to find other phone company providers to take over their remaining pay phones. He said the company plans to be out of the pay phone business by the end of the year.


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