- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

Some people still think of a quarter when using a pay phone, having never adjusted to the 35-cent rate.
Now they can think in quarters again two of them.
Verizon Communications Inc., which serves 33 states including the Washington region, said yesterday it will raise local pay-phone rates from 35 to 50 cents starting next week.
Two other large pay-phone providers, Quest Communications and SBC Communications, announced similar increases earlier this summer.
"Pay-phone usage has been in decline in recent years as result of competition with other pay-phone vendors and the wireless industry," said Catherine Lewis, a regional spokeswoman for Verizon.
Workers will begin converting the company's 430,000 pay phones to the 50-cent rate next week. The increase will be slower in coming to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and West Virginia, where prices will rise later this year.
The two-quarter flat rate is a steep jump, said David Butler, spokesman for the Washington office of Consumers Union.
"It's a frustrating trend for those who depend on pay phones when they are away from home," he said.
The pay-phone industry has been hit hard in recent years by the growing popularity of cell phones and by the rising cost of keeping the units working even as use declines.
The last increase, from 25 cents to 35 cents, in late 1997 did not seem to help, and the industry sought ways to cut costs.
Some companies shed units; Verizon, for instance, has 15 percent fewer phones than three years ago.
"Clearly the [pay phone] industry is in tough economic shape," said Vince Sandusky, president of the American Public Communications Council, a Fairfax organization representing independent phone companies, which have about 550,000 pay phones throughout the country.
In 1998, there were 2.8 million pay phones across the nation. Now there are fewer than 2.2 million.
Just a few months ago, BellSouth announced it was pulling out of the business, leaving about 140,000 pay phones that no other provider is likely to pick up, Mr. Sandusky said.
The availability and affordability of cell phones is one of the things that has hurt the pay-phone industry: One-third of Americans, or half of the nation's households, have cell phones.
Yet 5.5 million householders still have no phone service of any type, Mr. Sandusky said.
Phone companies are venturing into new types of services. Interactive terminals have become popular, offering Internet and fax services as well as phone calling.
Last month, Verizon began testing a 10-cent-a-minute local-call rate in certain markets in hopes of luring pay-phone users looking to make a quick call.
One of the testing sites is Union Station, as many consumers using the pay phones there are typically making short calls to request a ride, Mrs. Lewis said.
"There aren't any current plans to expand [the program] because we're going to evaluate how that is doing before we make any decision," she said.
Consumer groups are interested in the 10-cent rate, but "for consumers that are going to be speaking for more than a few minutes the plan definitely doesn't have any benefits at all and can be even more expensive than 50 cents," Mr. Butler said.


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