Pay phones as a social justice issue


Here's an item that I found in the September newsletter of the Unitarian Universalist church in San Francisco:

Following a policy of profit before people, AT&T disconnected our pay phone on July 14, 2006. This phone (415–441–9395) has served many visitors and members and never had vandalism or repair issues. It was especially helpful to persons who needed to call for a taxi during the evening hours when our office is closed.
A letter detailing our reliance on this phone for both service and emergency preparedness was sent to AT&T at 134 Northwest 6th Street, Evansville, Indiana 47708, and many phone calls were made by Nancy Evans to retain the pay phone, all to no avail.

AT&T replied that unprofitable pay phones are being pulled from locations much needier than ours, and had no sympathy with our concerns for safety. However, “customer advocate” Carol Schlachter (yes, that’s her real title) offered us AT&T’s option – a “convenience line” agreement at $75 a month!

We now have a phone with no dial tone. Senior and disabled members have already called the office to complain.
This is an example of something that has been going on for some time. As more people use cell phones, pay phones are being removed by the phone companies. But the fact is that large numbers of people don't own cell phones, and this is particularly true among the poor. Pay phones are not just a consumer commodity; they are a public service. The first sentence of that newsletter item, which pointed out that this is an example of "profit before people", identified the broader problem that lay at the heart of this issue. What is happening to pay phones is just a symptom of a broader phenomenon that affects much of society, in which profits are more important than human needs.