Community Organizes To Purchase A Pay Phone After AT&T Removed Their Only One

Elena Tyrrell is the postmistress of Canyon, California. After AT&T removed the town’s pay phone, she organized an effort to buy a new one for her town, according to NPR.

NPR: “It seems the pay phone wasn’t paying its way. However, the community’s post mistress fought the good fight and we hear that once again there is a pay phone in Canyon.

NPR: “So why is it important for Canyon, California have a pay phone?”

Tyrell: “Well, we’re in a deep canyon where cellphones don’t work most of the time. And, actually, to have a pay phone is good for all kinds of safety reasons. Fires. Accidents. Or just giving directions.

NPR: “Well, I imagine nestled where you are, people could get lost pretty easily?”

Tyrell: “Yeah, they do.”

NPR: “Well you’re the postmistress, you know your way around… is that how you ended up leading the fight to get the pay phone back?”

Tyrell: “Yeah, because I was here one day and one of my customers came in and said “Elena, someone is… AT&T is out there with a screwdriver… they’re taking out the phone… and I was like, “What!?” And I came out there and asked the guy and he said it wasn’t making enough money and that they needed to have it removed.

Anyway they gave us a 3 month stay where I tried calling all the different agencies including the local police department and the neighboring city, the sheriff’s department, the fire department, because it’s a safety issue out here and they all responded to AT&T saying “Yes, we are agreeing with Elena that we need this phone here.”

And they said, “Sorry. We don’t make accommodations for things like that. We’re just taking it out. They gave us the option of either not having one or buying our own. So we’re now in the pay phone business.”

Pay phones are disappearing everywhere. Another interviewee says that California set up a program to install “public use” pay phones, but spent all the money investigating the problem. By the time Canyon (the first community to actually need a phone) applied, they had no way to pay them.

Community Pays to Install its Own Pay Phone


Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    Wow. This needs to get into the mainstream media so that AT&T will get its just desserts for putting profits above human lives and safety.

  2. davebg5 says:

    @Buran: If you will, please let me take a guess at what AT&T’s response woudl be: “Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.”

  3. B says:

    If the pay phone was so important, why weren’t people using it in the first place?

  4. Falconfire says:

    @B: Just because something is not being used often doesnt mean its not important. I dont go running around with roadflares lit or a portable tent on my back, but they certainly would be very important if the situation arises where they are needed.

  5. DeeJayQueue says:

    @davebg5: Thank you for that. Totally off topic I know, but I had dinner with that guy (Richard LaParmentier) a couple weeks ago at Dragon*Con. Everyone I tell is like “Who?” and I have to say “That guy that Vader force-choked” and they all go OHHHH! I couldn’t remember the quote.

  6. nweaver says:

    Canyon is a real exception to the “payphones dying” rule…

    I ride through there on my motorcycle occasionally. IT is an absolute EM pit, anything short of a stattelite phone isn’t going to work.

  7. goodguy812 says:

    AT&T strikes again! i guess they must be really hurting after all those iphone users aren’t paying their outrageous cell phone bills.

  8. goodguy812 says:

    they should just hardwire an emergency only phone directly to the sherriffs department.

  9. Schmee says:


    Yeah but things like directions aren’t emergencies but when your cellphone doesn’t work and you need to call because you are lost you aren’t going to be running to a blue phone (or whatever color your emergency phones are) to ask the 911 operator for directions.

  10. bnet41 says:


    Agreed. At&t should not have to subsidize a phone just for these reasons though. If the community feels the need for one, and then they should pay for it. Which they are.

    You’d think the cell phone companies could come up with a repeater type solution that would work in this valley.

  11. Not that there is any excuse for this, but Chicago has been this way for many years. I remember seeing pay phones on every other block when I was growing up. As I got older I noticed more and more disappearing.I remember a time when pay phones could get incoming calls. There was a bar owned by a family friend that had a phone booth in the back that was done in all wood and modeled after a police call box. The telco came in there one day and removed that phone as it had a rotary dial and could receive incoming calls. It was proper with a coin slot as well.

  12. ahwannabe says:

    Cellphones don’t work? That’s it, I’m moving to Canyon.

  13. MrEvil says:

    I laughed quite hysterically when they mentioned the CA public use payphone fund. It’s absolutely HILARIOUS that they spent all their money researching the problem. What research is there to do? You Californians are a bunch of nutters.

  14. Skiffer says:

    I’ve heard they’re also going to kill the emergency roadside callboxes on the highways – which I think is just dumb…

  15. magus_melchior says:

    @Mr3vil: Hey! Leave the insulting for the residents!

  16. Broominator says:

    @Buran: AT&T is under no obligation to maintain pay phones that just lose money. That’s irresponsible to their employees, shareholders, and customers. Why should AT&T’s other customers pay to maintain these phones? If the city or state believes that these phones are important, they should use tax dollars and either install their own phones or pay AT&T to continue to maintain them.

    While it would be idyllic if AT&T decided that as a public service, they would essentially donating money to maintain phones like these, its completely at their own will. Stop bitching just to bitch.

  17. Buran says:

    @DeeJayQueue: I’m pretty sure it was Tarkin.

    But still… AT&T needs a good roasting. Say, by X-Wing. Can I fly it?

  18. Buran says:

    @solareclipse2: Oh heaven forbid someone use a phone to take calls!

  19. Falconfire says:

    @JustPeteHere: Actually thats a interesting point, because in the Ma Bell days, they WHERE required BY LAW to maintain them no matter what. It would be interesting to know if this changed when the split came, or if they are just ignoring the law since they figure nobody would notice with cell phones these days.

  20. LiC says:

    Same thing happened on my campus. Phone company came in and ripped out all the pay phones, including the ones mounted on walls, without giving notice to the university. We had a lot of unsightly holes in the walls and exposed wiring for a while until the university’s telecom service stepped up and installed free campus/911 call points.

  21. bilge says:

    @Buran: It’s actually a big problem when drug dealers set up shop and use pay phones as their office. Neighborhood I used to live in improved markedly when the corner phones had incoming calls disabled.

  22. SilverStar95 says:

    @B: “If a fire extinguisher is so important, why aren’t people using it all the time?”

    Same situation.

  23. TechnoDestructo says:


    Even if an individual phone loses money, it still increases the value of the network as a whole.

  24. @Buran: Apparently the phone company is the one who saw a problem with a pay phone taking incoming calls. They’re the ones who disabled the feature from the phones.

    @bilge: Ah, you seem to know how it went. Are you from Chicago?

  25. Landru says:

    AT&T sure should pay to maintain this phone, even if it isn’t making money. AT&T is using the public right-of-way right through Canyon to do business. And bullshit to the claim that it is irresponsible to their employees, shareholders, and customers. Civic responsibilty is not contrary to their interests.

  26. MeOhMy says:


    AT&T is using the public right-of-way right through Canyon to do business.

    Not if they take the phone out they aren’t…

  27. lincolnparadox says:

    @davebg5: You made me smile.

    @JustPeteHere: I asked my buddy at Qwest about this, and he said that before the phone company had made the deal with the federal and local governments to maintain the phones in exchange with federal assistance to maintain the lines.

    Now, everyone with a landline or cell phone pays for that line maintenance via a monthly fee. Communities can buy payphones and maintain them on their own, but that payphone in Canyon was probably some kind of forgotten carryover from the previous policy.

    Bottom line is, AT&T didn’t feel like doing charity for this town. If that doesn’t sit well with the town, then maybe they should let people know that AT&T is more concerned about income, and less concerned about customers. Chances are, that and AT&T’s high prices will get people to find another provider.

  28. Beerad says:

    For some unfathomable reason, I’m still surprised that so many people have the attitude “Hey, it’s a private corporation, there’s no obligation for them to support any public good. In fact, it’s irresponsible for them to be anything other than uncaring profit-pumps.”

    You corporatists do realize that we live in a society that heavily regulates business, right, and that for being granted the privilege to earn billions and billions of dollars for its owners our government imposes lots and lots of regulations on companies, especially those that provide public utilities like telecommunications?

    I’m not sure how much it cost AT&T to maintain this single payphone, but I suspect they derive enough excess revenue from doing business in California that they can afford to subsidize one phone for the town’s use.

  29. Yep says:

    Heeey, just like in the Brady Bunch!

  30. MeOhMy says:


    For some unfathomable reason, I’m still surprised that so many people have the attitude “Hey, it’s a private corporation, there’s no obligation for them to support any public good. In fact, it’s irresponsible for them to be anything other than uncaring profit-pumps.”

    Because neither by law nor by nature has it ever been required of a business to be socially responsible. Paying your employees, providing safe working conditions and paying taxes is about all that’s actually required. Since we’re under no obligation to patronize businesses, we are free to get the word out about socially irresponsible companies and encourage people not to patronize them.

    I’m not sure how much it cost AT&T to maintain this single payphone, but I suspect they derive enough excess revenue from doing business in California that they can afford to subsidize one phone for the town’s use.

    Sure, but can they afford to subsidize one phone for every podunk hamlet in California that asks for one because “Well, you put the one in Canyon back so it’s discriminatory not to put ours back.”? I’m sure they can but now it’s a lot more than just one payphone. Where do you draw the line? It makes far more sense for the people that want or need them to stand up and make it happen.

    Canyon did the right thing here – they are being self-sufficient.

    The failed and wasteful public phone program should be more worrisome than socially irresponsible business.

  31. n/a says:

    Mrs postmistress, remember to finish the fight.

  32. Landru says:

    @Troy F.: Oh, yes they are still using the public right-of-way. All those houses around there are still using landlines and dsl.

  33. Falconfire says:

    @Troy F.: in the past serving the public even as a private organization was more important than bottom line.

    then the 80’s came.

  34. tcm22 says:

    @bnet41: That’s exactly the problem. If the town feels the need for a payphone, there’s no reason AT&T should be forced to subsize it. The town is doing the right thing and covering the cost themselves. No reason the phone company should be forced to incur costs because they town feels someone else should provide security.

    Seems to me the solution might be to lobby for better cell phone coverage. Public pay phones are going the way of the telegram. Technology is making them obsolete. Time for the canyon dwellers to find alternate solutions.

  35. MrEvil says:

    @Beerad: I present for your consideration. The Supreme Court Case Dodge vs Ford Motor Company. It’s not a well publicized case (I only stumbled upon it a week ago) Here is the opinion of the court:

    “The Court held that a business corporation is organized primarily for the profit of the stockholders, as opposed to the community or its employees. The discretion of the directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to the reduction of profits or the nondistribution of profits among stockholders in order to benefit the public, making the profits of the stockholders incidental thereto.”

    Basically SCOTUS gave carte blanche that corporations are in business to profit their shareholders at all costs. The blame lies squarely with those greedy fucks the Dodge brothers. Henry Ford just wanted to sell us all cheap, quality cars, not line his pockets like there was no tomorrow.

  36. mattbrown says:

    postmistress, sounds sexy.

  37. MeOhMy says:

    @Landru: I don’t know how it works around there, but where I live Ma Bell laid the telephone lines 30 years ago and we can choose to get our service from a number of providers. Somehow I doubt those people are all using or required to use ATT’s service.

    @Falconfire: Yes, in the past serving the public good was “important” to some businesses. It was never a condition of operation.

  38. Robert Synnott says:

    Aren’t effective telecoms monopolies and similar generally forced to provide services in areas where they will not be economically viable, for the public good?

  39. Beerad says:

    @Troy F.: “neither by law or nature has it ever been required of a business to be socially responsible”

    No offense, but this is completely and absurdly false. See, e.g., minimum wage, laws against pollution, overtime pay, Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, regulated industries, public utilities, ad infinitum.

    Yes, corporations are mandated to get out there and make money for their shareholders. No, they can’t just do whatever they want to do it.

  40. MeOhMy says:

    @Beerad: Most of what you list falls under “paying your employees.” Try not to split the hair too much – by “social responsibility” we’re talking about a payphone and whether AT&T should be required to maintain a payphone that goes largely unused on purely public service grounds.

    Where is there a law about “providing products and/or services for the public good even if this comes at a loss” ?

    A business does not have to be a charity (that’s why we have charities).

    AT&T has the right to not keep pay phones around if they don’t want to.
    The town has the right to finance their own pay phone if they wish and hook it up to anyone’s network.
    Nobody has to patronize AT&T if they disagree with AT&T’s actions.
    The consumers have the real power here.

  41. tvh2k says:

    Why don’t they just put up a cell tower??