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Businesses Canada Cellphones Communications Technology

Is It Time To Commit To Ongoing Payphone Availability? 267

jenningsthecat writes "Public payphones seem headed the way of the dinosaur, as noted here on Slashdot 10 years ago, and again by the CBC earlier this year. Reasons typically cited for their demise are falling usage, (thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone), and rising maintenance costs. But during the recent disaster in NYC caused by Hurricane Sandy public payphones proved their worth, allowing people to stay in contact in spite of the widespread loss of both cellular service and the electricity required to charge mobile devices. In light of this news, at least one Canadian news outlet is questioning the wisdom of scrapping payphones. Should we in North America make sure that public pay phones will always be widely available? (After all, it's not as though they don't have additional value-added uses). And, should their continued existence be dependent on corporations whose primary duty is to their shareholders, rather than to the average citizen?"
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Is It Time To Commit To Ongoing Payphone Availability?

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  • No. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:42PM (#41883145) Homepage

    It's time to both beef up the communications infrastructure to support reliable operation and to commit to helping your neighbors with access to things like a telephone, should you have one that works, during a major catastrophe.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:46PM (#41883263)

    Instead of maintaining a system that is practically obsolete we should put the effort into making the newer system more robust.

    How about building pico-cells into emergency vehicles with some sort of dedicated wireless backhaul? Figure out how to queue access to cell phones so that even if such a system can only handle 5-10 voice calls at once (due to backhaul bandwidth limits), anyone with a basic cell phone can virtually "wait in line" until it is their turn to talk.

    It doesn't have to be limited to emergency vehicles, we could build stand-alone units too that could be battery powered and deployed fairly quickly.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:47PM (#41883275)
    Maybe portable cell towers (with recharging docks for the phones?) would be better. Or for that matter, a kiosk where a Red Cross worker lets people use a satellite phone for 3 minutes per turn. The problem with fixed emergency infrastructure like phone boxes is they may get wiped out, and they're sitting unused almost always.
  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:51PM (#41883343)

    You also need to remember to keep a non-cordless phone around to use with it. If the power is out and all you have is cordless (as many people do these days), you're still out of luck.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:54PM (#41883397)

    Okay, your cell phone phone is dead. Zombies have taken out the cell towers. It's an urban apocalypse. You're surrounded by evil, and low on gas. And there are no pay phones. How do you get in touch with the mad scientist 500 miles away to get the cure?

    It's easy guys: Walk into a commercial building with power and ask to use the phone. In fact, many without power will still have a few POTS lines powered (read: Not digital); but you may have to hunt for them, so if you're trapped in an apparently "dead" building with zombies and cthulu beasts outside, patience and a flashlight will save the day. Just avoid the restrooms.

    I know I'm being sarcastic here, but seriously guys -- if you're ever in a true emergency situation, stop and think. House flooded? No fresh water? Think about where fresh water might be -- stop panic'ing and really think. Ding! Toilet reservoir. People get all manner of stupid in a crisis because something they used to depend on suddenly isn't there. Guys, you've got millions of years of evolution that has taught you to be adaptable.. but not a lick of those years is going to do you any good until you calm down.

    We don't need pay phones. We need to teach people to be self-reliant, instead of hiding under their desks. The government and emergency services may not always be there for you. Neither will any of your modern conveniences. But there is nothing you need to survive that can't be found within a few miles of wherever you are in an urban environment. Food. Shelter. Water. Medical supplies. And if someone's injured, know first aid! It's not rocket science; Take a course today. And keep a small bug-out bag in your car. Less than $100 and some planning ahead of time and you can not only survive just about any catastrophe but also help the people around you.

    Everyone should be doing this. Don't rely on your fucking cell phone, or having access to any phone at all. Don't rely on the government. Rely on you. In an emergency, that's the only person you can rely on.

  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:57PM (#41883459) Homepage Journal

    Instead of maintaining a system that is practically obsolete we should put the effort into making the newer system more robust.

    In other words:
    Don't bother keeping what works working, instead we should spend obscene amounts of money and manpower on some new, theoretical system that may or may not work.

    You sound like my Congressman.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:00PM (#41883523)

    What exactly is wrong with a tax to pay for stuff like this?

    This is exactly the sort of thing government is for.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:11PM (#41883745)

    In other words:
    Don't bother keeping what works working, instead we should spend obscene amounts of money and manpower on some new, theoretical system that may or may not work.

    Uh no. Maybe you haven't noticed but payphones are going away because nobody is willing to spend an obscene amount of money maintaining them because nobody uses them. Meanwhile cell phone usage continues to increase. What i propose is to tweak the system that works 99% of the time so that it works 100% of the time.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:12PM (#41883753) Homepage

    Yes, I'd rather have my taxes going towards this than many other things. But I think frankly we don't need another tax for it. It's traditionally been handled as quid-pro-quo: "Telco, we're giving you cheap access to the public right-of-way to run your wires. Part of your side of the bargain is you're going to maintain these important services. If you don't want to maintain them, then let's talk about what the market price is for access rights for all your wiring...".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:12PM (#41883765)

    Just add an easement to your city's antenna tower permits that will allow people to put in ham radio repeaters with autopatches.

    Individuals will pay for their own transceivers for free (as they have for about a century) and hams will move traffic that can be done simplex to other frequencies.

    There are a dozen repeaters in reach of my commute to work. There are naturally in places that don't flood and hams generally have great battery backups connected to them. Further, they don't require the phone systems to work at all. I can reach any ham in the city with mine, no phone line involved.

    Folks that are good at this may in fact be near you already: []

    And these folk can get you started: []

  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:23PM (#41883951) Journal

    That's all fine and good, but why not just provide a tower with a bunch of powered USB ports for people to stand around and plug into. It can be solar powered with a battery for backup. No power ties would be needed and no hardline. If you really wanted to wire it up, put a few low power cell phone antennas/radios on the top that could easily be replaced when new technology permits. This way you solve the existing infrastructure problem of having tens of thousands of people jamming regular cell towers and give people a place to charge up in emergencies.

    The thing is... people have their own displays they carry around with them now. If you wanted to provide a local service to them you'd best serve them by allowing wifi connections and directing them to a web page with that info.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:28PM (#41884017)

    In other words:

    Don't bother keeping what works working, instead we should spend obscene amounts of money and manpower on some new, theoretical system that may or may not work.

    I'm sure the buggy whip makers said something similar in their day.

  • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:34PM (#41884117)

    Historically speaking it's the people that band together and help each other in emergencies that do best.

  • by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:39PM (#41884205)

    The higher the technology, the bigger the fall when it fails in a disaster.

    you cant overengineer everything, and the more complex/higher tech a thing is, the MORE likely it will fail in a disaster.

    keeping around low tech backups is never bad, and its cheaper too.

  • by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:03PM (#41884653)

    You are so horribly naive. You cannot failure proof a system. The more complex it is, the more you cannot do it.

    Yours is the exact same voices that say "we dont need guns, we have missles now". and then vietnam proved them wrong.
    Yours is the exact same voices that say "we dont need candles anymore, we have electricity". And then every major storm proves them wrong.
    Yours is the exact same voices that say "we dont need LORAN we have GPS!". and then when a glitch interupts GPS for a few hours everyone freezes cause there is no backup.
    Yours is the exact same voices that say "we dont need guns, we have the police to protect us", until one day the police are too slow.

    Somethings stick around simply because you can't beat a classic. Sure, something shinier comes along, the old reliable gets put back in teh corner, gathering dust. But then when shiny breaks, as it always must, you still got Ol Reliable back in teh corner just waiting.

    At somepoint we may get our cell system to where it is in the category of it simply just works, no maintenance needed, no matter what happens we'll just pop it out and bam it works (ya right). But technology is always advancing. By then there will likely be a new shiny. And once again someone will raise the cry "but its obsolete, get rid of it, we got teh neural net now, we dont need a backup. just engineer the nueral net to be failure proof".

    Having a low-tech, old fashioned, "obsolete" backup is smart. You cannot prepare for everything. The more complex a system, the more ways it can fail. The KISS principle is an axiom for a reason. Overengineering exponentially adds to costs while giving exponentially less benefit in return. 100$ to get 95% there. 1000$ to get 98% thee. 10000$ to get 99% there. 100000$ to get 99.5% there. Etc etc.

    Obsolete is not a bad word. Sure, payphones and landlines are "obsolete". but once your fancy high tech comm relays get taken out by SuperMegaStorm X, even after spending billions to overengineer it, you wont care how "obsolete" it is, unless it's to curse the morons who demanded it be removed.

    Technology is great. But the higher the tech, the worse it is when it goes down without a backup. Having around old seldom used backups is a leg up, a boost, when the s*** hits the fans. Like a cheat sheet, lets you get back in the game quicker, back to normal faster.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:03PM (#41884655)

    Sure, we've already spent so much money to get the system working 99% of the time. Why not spend the 1% more that it would take to get it working 100% of the time? Heck, spend 2% more, and get it working 101% of the time! Sometimes, you don't even have to dial!

Over the shoulder supervision is more a need of the manager than the programming task.