- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

PLAINVIEW, Neb. (AP) - The last time anyone put a quarter in the pay phone outside the Road Runner gas station in Plainview, Dave Heineman was the governor.

No one has used the public phone since sometime in 2013, the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1NAgICe ) reports. It’s beat up by the weather. And a replacement will cost more than $1,000.

That’s why Plainview Telephone Co. is asking the state Public Service Commission for permission to remove the last pay phone in the northeast Nebraska town of 1,300.

“The days of needing a pay phone are over,” said Grant Dummer, company manager. “Now everyone has a cellphone in their pocket.”

And most Plainview residents still have a landline in their home, though the service is digital, said Dummer. Plainview Telephone installed fiber optics to every home and business starting in 2005, replacing the old and failing copper wire system.

Pay phones and phone booths are a relic of the landline era, when they were available for the stranger in town who needed to make a call or the resident without a telephone at home.

And the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulated telephone service when it was a monopoly, required at least one public phone in every town. It still does.

So Dummer is seeking permission from the PSC to remove the last pay phone in Plainview. If no one protests, the commission will grant the request without a public hearing, a process that has been routinely occurring over the last decade as cellphones and cellphone service were becoming ubiquitous.

The commission can waive the rule for reasons such as: abusive vandalism or damage, excessive cost of maintaining the pay station, or lack of use.

It’s fairly easy these days to show there’s no need, said Gene Hand, director of the commission’s telecommunications department.

Since 2012 the commission has freed four companies from their pay phone requirement in 40 towns.

Times have changed since Clark Kent (aka Superman) used phone booths as his dressing room because they were everywhere. And the numbers show it.

There used to be more than 2 million pay phones in the United States, according to the American Public Communications Council, a trade association. Fewer than 200,000 are left.

Nebraska, which had almost 2,600 pay phones in 2010 was down to 1,172 last year, based on PSC records.

Lincoln has just 292 pay phones. And Windstream, which is the local landline company, has just 1,945 pay phones in communities across the country, down from 7,837 in 2005, according to spokesman Scott Morris.

These days few people are without a cellphone in their purse or pocket. So they’re not looking for pay phones.

Twenty years ago there were about 190,000 cellphone subscribers in the state.

In 2004 there were about 944,700 cellphone subscribers. Ten years later there were 1.3 million cellphones and just 699,118 landline subscribers.

“You still see them (pay phones) at airports and places like that, though there are probably more plug-ins for cellphones than pay phones,” said Hand. And the pay phones probably use a credit card rather than coins, he said.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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