44% Fewer West Virginia Payphones Since 1998

The number of payphones in West Virginia has decreased 44% since industry deregulation in 1998, according to reports by the state’s Public Service Commission.

Year – West Virginia Payphones
2002 – 9,047
2003 – 8,254
2004 – 7,521
2005 – 7,018
2006 – 6,190

Live in the boonies, get the short end of the sticks.

The seventh through ninth interim reports by the West Virginia payphone task force all contain this paragraph:

The substantial decline in the number of payphones in West Virginia means that many areas – especially rural areas – remain on the edge of market failure. Even though cell phone service has become more widespread, there are many areas of the state without cell phone coverage and many households that cannot afford either a traditional landline phone or a cell phone. For these areas and these families, the declining availability of payphones can have a direct effect on the quality of life in West Virginia.

With no other phone available, a payphone’s removal makes it harder to complain about its removal.

PAYPHONE TASK FORCE NINTH INTERIM REPORT [West Virginia Consumer Affairs Division]
PAYPHONE TASK FORCE INTERIM REPORTS [West Virginia Consumer Affairs Division]


Edit Your Comment

  1. travisw says:

    Oh well. Toothless people sound funny on the phone anyway. ;-)

  2. blue_duck says:

    Nice to know that West Virginia is looking out for the little guy.

  3. 2Legit2Quit says:

    My dad actually was in charge of the Verizon payphones around the Northeastern area. He had to start shifting into prison phone systems to maintain budgets and tasks, then when Verizon gave up prison systems… well he died of a heart attack lol

    thanks cell phones!

  4. Zgeg says:

    What the heck is a “Pay Phone”? Is that a Typo? Should that read “Pay as you go Phone”? I’m confused….

  5. humphrmi says:

    The problem is not deregulation.

    The problem is that there is no money in payphones anymore.

    Cell phones and calling cards have taken all of the money out of the payphone business, and the direct result of that is fewer payphones nationwide (note that this problem is not limited to West Virginia).

    I predict nothing can be done about it. Most payphone companies are going out of business anyway, so the “commissions” that bleat about this won’t have anyone to complain to soon.

  6. lalahsghost says:

    I moved to North-Central West Virginia, after living in Virginia Beach for seventeen years. I go to college here, and in this small, rural town… I think the only pay-phones I have seen are operated from or by stores/restaurants. McDonald’s has one. Wendy’s Has one, Wal-Mart has like six? I also think our Rite-Aid has one, and thats about it… I don’t worry about it, since I’ve had a mobile phone since 2004. :)

  7. WV.Hillbilly says:

    Stereotype much?

    Would you say of an urban area that ghetto people sound funny?
    How about those orientals? You can hardly understand them.
    And those Sikhs, how do they hear with that towel on their head?

    Isn’t it good that it’s still OK to make fun of us “ignurnt hillbillies”?
    Lighten up on on the WV/mountains/south “jokes”. They sound just as bigoted as what I wrote above.

    There is a huge radio quiet zone in WV where there are absolutely no radio transmitters of any kind.

    There aren’t many other places in the state that don’t have cell coverage.
    There are people here that don’t have a pot to piss in, but, by god they’ve got a cell phone.

    This is a national trend, not just WV.

  8. tcm22 says:

    The technology of payphones is obsolete. Rural areas aren’t the only ones losing payphones. The same situation is being mirrored across the country. There is insufficient demand for the systems, so why would a business keep maintaining them? Oh yeah, to “help the little guy.”

    Seems like the prevailing notion on this site is that businesses should be charities.

    Technology drives economic change. Economic change always causes displacements in some for or another. That’s just reality. The alternative — gov’t control of the economy — is much worse.

    People need to adapt and stop expecting business to offer freebies.

  9. teh says:

    Correlation is not causation! Since 1998, the number of pay phones has decreased, the number of cell phones has increased, and the number of obese Americans has increased. Does this imply that the reduction in pay phones is due to the rising obesity epidemic?

  10. Beerad says:

    @humphrmi: “Most payphone companies are going out of business anyway…” I’m sorry, which companies were those? Verizon? AT&T? Hmmmmmm.

    @tcm22: “…prevailing notion on this site is that businesses should be charities” Or the wacky notion that business should be required to give at least some minimal benefit back to the society that they are otherwise only interested in bleeding completely dry of its capital. Crazy, I know, huh?

  11. tcm22 says:

    The causation is pretty apparent. The rise of cell phones means that people can make a call regardless of location. Since they have a phone in their pocket, they don’t need to seek some other company’s landline to make a call. Less demand equals less support for the infrastructure. Basic economics really, though that seems to confuse many people on this site.

  12. tcm22 says:

    The “benefit” that a company “gives back” is the goods and services that they provide to consumers willing to voluntarily pay for what the company has to offer. I fail to understand where you divine that there is some other obligation or the desire to extract something more than your $$s are willing to pay for.

    There is no free lunch. The fact that companies make money providing goods and services that are in demand does not obligate them to provide high cost, low demand, non-productive services just because a few people feel they are important.

    Ref the previous payphone article where the town in CA coughed up the dough to pay for it rather then try to extort it from the private business via gov’t power.

  13. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I can understand why you would need a payphone in West Virginia, but payphones in most states are pretty much obsolete due to increased cell phone use. Is there any data as to how much these payphones in WVA were even being used? Because if people were not using them, there’s no real loss to anyone if they were removed.

  14. Phipps6505 says:

    No, you can’t make a call regardless of a location. I don’t believe that public corporations should be charities, but there is also an obligation to provide some public service. In large swaths of West Virginia, it would be prohibitively expensive to provide cell phone service, and in some cases illegal (the radio free zones in the south eastern portion of the state). A payphone in those areas is desirable, and in many cases necessary.

    I live in (for WV) a much more developed area. However, if I drive fifteen minutes outside of town, there’s no cell service. There are many smaller towns along that drive – someone has got to provide service for those areas. Whether it’s a payphone or cell service, I don’t care.

    And @travisw

  15. Beerad says:

    @tcm22: Oh, I’ve read the previous payphone article, and you can find my commenting fingerprints smudged all over that one too.

    I “divine” that there is some other obligation on a company’s behalf from looking at the healthy tradition in this country of regulating businesses, particularly in the telecommunications industry. The “benefit” that a company gives back is not that they get to make millions of dollars — that’s the privilege they get. The government has the ability to say “Fine, you want to operate in this country, Megacorp X, there’s a few rules you have to follow.” It’s the reason that Con Ed can’t suddenly decide to raise my electricity rates to $5,000 a month, that Ma Bell got broken into little bitty pieces, and that developers are required to devote a certain amount of new housing for low-income tenants in dense metropolitan areas.

    You’re right, there is no free lunch. Good thing I paid for it with all the tax subsidies to businesses and by living in a society that allows companies largely (but not entirely) unfettered freedom to operate as they wish.

  16. Mr. Mangold says:

    So…people who can’t afford a landline or a cell phone or a track phone…CAN afford to regularly use a pay phone???

    I lived in a rural area of PA until last year and still live in the suburbs and I don’t think I’ve used a pay phone in about a decade. If you can’t afford $10 for basic local service a month (that’s what it costs here in PA for the most basic local service), you have bigger problems than not having a pay phone nearby.

    The main point here though is that there must not be much of a demand for pay phones, otherwise a company trying to make money would have more around.

  17. humphrmi says:

    @Beerad: Paytel Canada, Bellsouth (dropped the payphone business), Ameritech (dropped the payphone business before SBC/AT&T buyout)… the list goes on. AT&T says they’ll “stick with it as long as they can” (not the quote of a booming business opportunity) – [www.columbusdispatch.com]

    Lots of smaller payphone providers come and go every year that you can’t find with a simple Google search, like I did to get the above.

  18. killavanilla says:

    You get the prize of being first with the correct answer….
    I wouldn’t mind chipping in a buck on my cell phone bill to support payphones in areas where they are needed.
    Maybe instead of earmarks for beautification, we could have a senator out there who can fund a community project like that?

  19. killavanilla says:

    Depends on who writes the story…
    If it was in the NY Times, then absolutely.
    And it’s all George Bush’s fault.

  20. Beerad says:

    @humphrmi: “Dropped the payphone business” is not the same as “going out of business”. Imagine if the electric company said “you know, there’s just not enough profit in serving some of these small towns in West Virgina. We’ve decided to focus on more profitable sectors of the marketplace. Consequently, we’re cancelling your electricity. Hope you’ve got plenty of torches!”

  21. Phipps6505 says:

    Speaking of the electric company, our local electric monopoly has announced plans to string new lines through several counties in West Virginia to provide power to areas in northern Virginia. Guess who’s paying for the new transmission lines? The Nova residents getting the power? Not so much – under the energy bill passed in 2005 – we are.

    It’s wonderful to live in an area that isn’t profitable to serve….

  22. rdldr1 says:

    It’s/They’re all RELATIVE in West Virginia!

  23. Rusted says:

    @rdldr1: I used to have all sorts of West Virginia jokes being a former Virginian. We never got completely over them for seceding from….us.

    Still, I’d drive over the state line and they had the new four lane roads and we had the same cruddy overcrowded two lanes. They have a senator (Harry Byrd) who actually did bring home the bacon, whole hogs worth of bacon, for his constituents, and we had worthless party apparatchniks only capable of spouting their party line, or the latest tax cut/borrow/pay later garbage.

  24. coinralph says:

    I own and operate a small payphone business in WV. I started with 93 phones in 1998. Today I have only 51. The reality is this industry has declined over 80% since 1998 and to this day continues to decline annually at a rate of 15%-20% each year. At that rate, this industry might have another 2-3 years left. After that, good luck in finding a public phone. The payphone is headed for extinction.
    What is the cause of the decline? Wireless!!