It is 2018 and everyone you know besides your 2-year old niece owns a smartphone. Your 2-year old niece probably has a tablet, though, and she only uses it for games and Disney movies on long car trips. While 95 percent of Americans have access to a phone inside of their pocket or purse, the need for a payphone doesn’t seem to make sense anymore. Unless you’re trying to get inside the Ministry of Magic, but that is another story entirely.
Payphones: Back in the Day
The payphone had a nice run, and now may be the end of that quaint era circa the mid-1990s when they were found just about everywhere. Smartphone addiction is on the rise, but it doesn’t look like AT&T and Verizon are planning to enter back into the pay phone market anytime soon.
Mobile phones aren’t the only culprit in the case of the missing pay phone booth. Many cities believed the pay phone was the reason behind a rise in crime and these cities, such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Kansas City tried to ban the pay phone completely. Although they were unsuccessful, other cities like Los Angeles did have some mild success in restricting payphone locations, like outside of liquor stores where they believed the rise in crime was originating.
Payphones in the United States began popping up at increasing rates beginning in the 1980s and throughout the 90s. Eventually, AT&T’s monopoly over the pay phone was broken up and several telephone companies picked up the slack by setting up pay phone booths on as many blocks as possible in urban areas. These payphones were convenient and resilient enough to stay standing during natural disasters that would take down cell towers. This was important for many people who could run into car trouble or for those with mobile phones whose battery would deplete in mere hours.
The pay phone booth was created for these kinds of situations as a fail-safe, but more often than not the pay phones were used by drug dealers and pimps. And sometimes they were even distastefully used as public restrooms. In order to deter drug dealers from hanging out near public pay phones, the telephone companies removed inbound calling capabilities so a drug dealer could not wait around for the phone to ring.
Battle of the Pay Phone Ban
Despite the restraints placed on the pay phone, politicians and citizens remained unsatisfied. Their belief was that getting rid of the pay phone would also eliminate the abundance of crime on the streets. The war against drugs began with a battle to enact a pay-phone ban in Chicago. The belief was that the police could not track the phone calls being made by the drug dealers and therefore the crime couldn’t be stopped. That was not necessarily true at the time, the only thing the police needed was a warrant, but the battle raged on against pay phones.
It was decided that the best course of action was to monitor the rise of the pay phone booth more closely, and what happened was that pay phones were not allowed to be built in impoverished areas, meaning that the people who would need to use them the most were not able to find one close enough to their home. The demand and supply needs were not being met by the primary target which ultimately led to the downfall of the pay phone. Most pay phones have disappeared on street corners, some have even been replaced with mobile phone charging stations.
Current Payphone Laws
The laws surrounding the pay phone today are very much the same. Communities most often view the users of pay phones as low-income people who are potential criminals and therefore many shop owners and people around the neighborhood where you can still find a pay phone will begin advocating for the removal of the device.
There are even payphone restrictions written into town charters in some areas that fear gang-related activities could be linked to pay phones.
When pay phones completely disappear, the community of low-income people will be most affected by the loss. The rise in technology is the popular choice to blame on the eradication of pay phones, but in reality, the bad reputation surrounding the payphone ultimately killed it.