BellSouth getting out of the pay phone business

Saturday, February 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ BellSouth is hanging up on pay phones.

The local phone monopoly for most of the Southeast said Friday it plans to pull all of its 143,000 pay phones out of service by the end of 2002.

The Atlanta-based company attributed the decision to the growing number of consumers using cell phones and pagers rather than plunking down spare change.

BellSouth said it hopes to sell many of the pay phones to other companies. But it will also give the locations that host the phones _ hotels, airports, gas stations and the like _ the option to rip them out all together.

``People are making new choices,'' BellSouth spokesman David Blumenthal said. ``We've obviously recognized that pay phones are not part of that.''

BellSouth also said its pay phones have been producing smaller revenues because long-distance carriers pay them less money for ``dial-around'' services, including collect, toll-free and ``10-10'' calls.

For now, the pay phones operated by the local Bell monopolies in other parts of the country appear safe.

Verizon Communications, the nation's largest local phone company, said Friday it has no plans to abandon the 460,000 pay phones spread across its markets, which are mostly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

SBC Communications, which serves the Southwest and Midwest, also said it intends to keep its more than 400,000 pay phones in service. Qwest Communications, which acquired the U S West business providing local service to the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions, didn't return calls seeking comment.

Blumenthal said BellSouth expects no trouble finding buyers for the phones, even as the market for the coin-operated boxes continues to cool.

In a statement, BellSouth said it wants to focus on more popular services, including the Cingular Wireless partnership with SBC, and high-speed Internet access.

BellSouth shares closed down $1.50, or 3.5 percent, at $41.50 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.