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County considers new options as BellSouth cuts pay phones

Pay telephone callers will be using a new service provider toreach out and touch someone after BellSouth leaves the market atthe end of the year.

BellSouth has been moving toward leaving the pay telephonebusiness since February 2001, said C.D. Smith, regional manager.The company had planned to be finished by the end of 2002, but thatwas extended until the end of 2003.

The company has notified location providers that BellSouth willstart removing the pay phones in January unless a transition to anew pay phone service provider is completed before then. In somecases, pay phones will not be removed, but all markings andreferences to “BellSouth” will be taken off the phones.

Smith said there are over 100 coin telephone vendors in thestate.

“There are plenty of options for those who want to have a coinphone at their business,” Smith said.

Lincoln County is one customer weighing its pay phone options,said David Fields, county administrator. The pay telephone at thegovernment complex is located in a hallway in front of the mayor’soffice.

Options for the county include leasing a pay telephone with anew service provider, buying the equipment from BellSouth andoperating the pay phone, or installing a courtesy line with limiteddialing options.

Fields said supervisors have not made a decision on a new phoneservice. The pay phone brought in $183 for the county lastyear.

“Based on the revenue total, nobody was using it much any way,”Fields said.

The lease option would cost the county an estimated $135 amonth.

Buying the BellSouth equipment would cost $240, but the countywould have to pay a monthly telephone line charge if it operatesthe pay phone or installs a courtesy phone. Long distance calls andincoming collect calls would be blocked with the courtesy phoneoption.

Fields was unsure when the board would act on the pay phonesituation.

“We’ve got until the end of the year,” Fields said.

During a recent board discussion, one supervisor questionedwhether the complex needed a pay phone.

“With everyone toting one on their hip, I don’t think we needone,” said District 2 Supervisor Bobby J. Watts, citing increasedcellular telephone usage.

Smith said the BellSouth move out of the pay phone business wasdriven by consumer choices, technology changes and wirelesscommunications. Also cited was dramatic decline in pay phone usagesince 1998.

“It was a multitude of factors,” Smith said.

In February 2001, there were 143,629 BellSouth pay phones in thenine-state region that includes Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama,Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina andFlorida. That total is now down to around 90,000, Smith said.

Mississippi’s total in 2001 was 10,457. The number of pay phonesstill in operation in 2003 was not available, but Smith it is”considerably less” now.

“The numbers are changing drastically as we approach the end ofour involvement in the business,” Smith said.