AT&T Is Exiting The Pay Phone Business After 129 Years

AT&T announced today that they are exiting the pay phone business, and will be phasing out 65,000 pay phones in 13 states, according to Bloomberg.

From AT&T:

The company plans to phase out both public pay phones and phones provided under contracts at government correctional facilities through the end of next year. All customers will receive advance notification of specific plans as well as information on other potential providers and product options.

The move affects AT&T pay phones in the company’s traditional 13-state service area only. BellSouth Corp., which was acquired by AT&T Inc. in late 2006, had previously exited the pay phone business in its nine-state service area. AT&T’s wholesale pay phone services are not affected.

Public Communications will honor all existing customer contract terms and conditions while continuing to provide excellent customer service throughout the withdrawal process.

“This is the right time for us to take this step on behalf of our customers, employees and stockholders,” said David Huntley, senior vice president for Customer Information Services. “We expect that independent providers will pick up much of this business, and, as we exit the business, we will be able to refocus our resources to areas that offer stronger growth potential and greater opportunity for the company.”

The phone company cited “significant pressure” from “reduced pay phone usage” as a result of cellphones as the reason for the phase out. AT&T installed the first coin-operated pay phone at a bank in Hartford, CT in 1889.

AT&T Announces Intention to Withdraw from Pay Phone Business by End of 2008
[AT&T] (Thanks,Josh!)
AT&T to Disconnect Pay-Phone Business After 129 Years (Update1) [Bloomberg]


Edit Your Comment

  1. clocker says:

    It’s been so long since I’ve found a working pay phone I assumed they were [i]already[/i] out of the business.

  2. mycroft2000 says:

    I’m predicting that most people won’t care about this until there’s another multi-state blackout, when they will suddenly start to care a lot.

  3. homerjay says:

    Oh great. What am I going to do with the pay phone in the den? There’s no way Jan and Marsha are going back to using MY phone again!

  4. vladthepaler says:

    Seems like an obvious ploy to invenience people who don’t have cell phones… ie to make them get cell phones, preferably ATT ones no doubt.

  5. Crymson_77 says:

    Hope they are rolling out fuel cell backup systems for those towers…

  6. JustAGuy2 says:


    Nothing so nefarious – the fact is, pay phone use is low enough that they don’t bring in enough revenue to cover the cost of maintaining them. Only place that isn’t true is New York City, where you’re allowed to put ads on them, and the street advertising space makes them profitable even if nobody ever actualy calls.

  7. bunnymen says:

    I hate this so much. It’s hard enough to find a pay phone these days. Yes, I have a cell phone, but it’s not like its implanted into my body – yet. I just really feel like pay or public phones should be widely available 24/7 in case of emergency.

  8. mammalpants says:

    the only difference is that now it’s in my pocket and it’s 25¢ a minute!

  9. hapless says:

    I wonder whether this will affect independent payphone operators. (Not that there are many of those left, either.)

  10. BillyShears says:

    Seems silly, but I’m a sucker for small bits of trivia.

    You guys are saying the first pay phone was in Hartford, Engadget says Chicago. Who’s right?

  11. lincolnparadox says:

    I wonder if cities and towns will start putting up payphones? It might be a way to make things convenient for tourists, and bring in a little income for the city?

  12. MrEvil says:

    @hapless: As the quote from the article stated, AT&T’s wholesale payphone service will not be affected. By wholesale payphone that means companies that pay AT&T for the phone line and maintain the phones themselves.

    All this really does is open a cottage industry of non teleco payphones. Also, there’s nothing stopping communities from putting up their own payphones if they feel they are in need of one.

  13. Sempera says:

    @BillyShears: It also says that the first pay phone was in 1889, which if my calculations are correct would be 118 years ago, not 129. I’d go for Chicago.

  14. Sempera says:

    Nevermind, a little bit of research proves myself wrong. Turns out that the first prepaid phone was in Chicago, which was installed after the one in Hartford.

  15. Angus says:

    This doesn’t effect “COCOT” (Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephone), just the ones owned by AT&T. It’s just not worth it for AT&T to do this – vandalism, low usage, etc take it’s toll. And redboxing is so passe’.

  16. headon says:

    The are still payphones. Who knew?

  17. Rusted says:

    There will be pay phones, just not Ma Bell’s. Carry lots of quarters.

    Besides, who doesn’t carry a cell these days?

    @homerjay: I hated that show. Instant diabetes.

    @bunnymen: Chances are, if it’s in an area that’s far from a cell tower or on the fringe, ain’t gonna be a pay phone anyway.

  18. FromThisSoil says:

    I work for Verizon in New York City on municipal jobs. Any phone booth that might be in the way of a city job is thoroughly studied to see if the money the phone booth makes is worth it enough to keep the phone booth in operation and allow the contractor to preserve it during construction (i.e. Verizon pays the contractor money to do so).

    If the cost incurred to Verizon is more than what the phone booth makes, guess what? It’s taken out.

    The verdict? Most pay phones are removed.

  19. AD8BC says:

    @Angus: Oh does that bring back memories…I built a red-box in college using the guts of a hallmark recordable greeting card and the audio file of a quarter tone. Packaged it into a red Bubble Tape container.

    It worked. Well. I tried it a few times to be sure. I did a “how to” speech in my communications class on how to build one.

    Never worked on the COCOTs though… only the Michigan Bell payphones.

  20. KJones says:

    If they’re removing pay phones that are unprofitable or vandalized often, that’s one thing, but to remove all pay phones (as the text seems to suggest) is incredibly short sighted.

    What about tourists or business travellers who don’t have a cell phone or are on another network or in another country? What about unemployed people? People who need to call home? What about emergencies and 911?

    There is benefit to having pay phones in a few key places such as hotels, supermarkets and government buildings.

  21. dantsea says:

    I see plenty of pay phones, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a genuine Big Phone Company one. I’m certain those tourists or business travelers from Elbonia and surrounding parts will continue to find service.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    Damn, I remember red boxing. Had a Radio Shack pocket DTMF generator (remember those?) that I had done a little bit of soldering work to make it do the red box tones. Those days were fun. Not sure what today’s youth do.

  23. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this really sucks? Not only that, who thinks this is really foolish? If I’m stuck in the middle of some area…I would like to be able to find a pay phone. Oh well, I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles…Even my mom has a cell phone and it’s gotten her out of a few inconvienient situations and she was totally against getting one. I just hope that there is’nt a huge EMP pulse that knocks out all the cells. At least there will be a few left for the vandals to beat the shit out of. lol.

  24. peggynature says:

    It’s so much more profitable to make the customer shoulder the costs of the hardware, and the replacement if it is lost or broken, and get locked into a two-year plan for $50 a month, and…and…and…

    I think this SUCKS. I use payphones.

  25. cherpep says:

    I think it’s terrible! Especially in places like high schools, movie theaters, etc. Not all kids have cell phones, and they need to be able to get to a phone in case of emergency!!