Chambers, Nebraska's solitary payphone in jeopardy

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63 Responses to “Chambers, Nebraska's solitary payphone in jeopardy”

  1. mccrum says:

    Please don’t mention this to Hiram, he was so upset three years ago when they took that hitching post out from in front of the mercantile.

  2. Rider says:

    How the hell can it cost $1500 to maintain a payphone? This is totally fictional and creative billing/bookkeeping that US companies do is a major problem that no one seems to notice. I see it in health care all the time.

    • Matt G says:

      It’s right there in the article: “That includes checking the coin boxes, repairing damage and paying for dial tones, surcharges, fees, taxes and phone books, Woods said.”  Payphones are mechanical devices which actually collect money, so you periodically have to send someone around to empty the quarters and/or repair them.  Employee + benefits + truck + gas + insurance + maintenance rolling out there a few times a month could easily be $1,500.

      Besides, if that’s overstated, both phones combined took in $20 last year– even if the service depot was across town the phones would probably cost more than they take in.  Don’t let your righteous indignation get in the way of common sense….

      • Ashen Victor says:

         I don`t know… but  common sense tells me that it is highly improvable that  sending a man to check if there is any money once a month costs $125.
        Also telephone companies having to pay for dial tones!

        • foobar says:

          They’re talking about rural phones, so a (probably unionized) employee taking a day to drive out there at $20/hour would cost $160 for an eight hour workday, and that’s before you count gas, vehicle maintenance, benefits and whatnot.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            I would guess that salary/benefits plus personnel management costs, transportation costs, office overhead cost, insuring the employee and the truck and everybody that comes in contact, etc. costs in the vicinity of $100 per hour for a skilled employee who gets sent out on the road.

          • BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

            Yeah and an unionised employee is a hard working , non self indulged benefit entitlement seeking slacker. 

      • travtastic says:

         Why do they need to send someone out to check the money if it’s getting a couple of bucks a year?

      • Rider says:

        None of that costs $1500 a year.   Yes at the inflated prices their departments charge themselves internally you might get a totally fictional $1500 “cost”  but there is no way in reality it costs $1500 a year.   

        • guanto says:

          And you know this better than the actual telcos because…?

          • Dv Revolutionary says:

            telco’s lie and inflate service/equipment cost. Telco’s lie, they lie, they lie, and they inflate equipment cost. If there is a nice $5,000 piece of equipment they will talk to the vendor and get it priced at $35,000. What vendor wouldn’t agree? It keeps out competitors and allows them to bill the hell out of any open access leasing.

            The defraud us everyday and make us eat costs. They don’t care about your situation they force you to adhere to your contract. They can eat the cost of adhering to their contract in this case.

          • guanto says:

            Wow. Are you for real?

          • Dennis Smith says:

            Most companies as big as this charge internally to internal budgets between departments. This is the same the world over. The $1500 bill is bull – the guy who check the cash in that machine doesn’t actually go there – the phone reports to base if the handset is missing/damaged or how much $ is in the coin box, therefore warranting a call out when and only when it’s needed. It doesn’t cost $1500 to do that, it takes the same engineer who works in the local exchange to drive  a few miles up the road to visit it, not someone to visit from their HQ out of state to do this.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            it takes the same engineer who works in the local exchange to drive a few miles up the road to visit it

            You didn’t look at the map, did you?

      • Sirkowski says:

        So it would be cheaper if it was free.

        • foobar says:

          Then it couldn’t make long distance calls, which the commission would probably not allow.

          • guanto says:

            Seeing as this is a really remote town, I’m not sure there is a real risk of somebody abusing the ability to place free long-distance calls. And even if, how many minutes (days probably) could you talk to somebody on the other end of the world for what it costs to maintain a payphone right now?

      • EvilSpirit says:

        If the phone company didn’t lose money on isolated, small-town pay phones, there wouldn’t be a law requiring them to supply them in the first place, now would there? They’d put them there anyway if they *made* money.

        The issue here is whether the public interest justifies such a thing these days, not whether it costs the phone company money, because that’s a given.

        • traalfaz says:

           Exactly.  Rules like this are why the US is 100% electrified and 100% phone service (well, several 9′s anyway, there are still some places that can’t get phone lines installed).

          Had the government not made it mandatory, power companies never would have run power, Ma Bell never would have run phone lines, except in high population density areas.

        • spocko says:

           EvilSpirit you are spot on with this.  The phone companies cut a deal that they get to charge people in other locations for these “money losing locations” but what they don’t do is point out how much money they generate to pay for these “money losing locations”  What kind of contracts, surcharges do they use to pay for those phones now? Do you think maybe they have generated more than $1,500 a year for the company?
          Over how long of a period.

          I’ll bet that for the costs of keeping these payphones running the phone company has generated millions upon millions in revenue from big city contracts. They now want to ignore all that revenue that could have (and should have) been enough to keep these payphone in place for decades.

          The made and agreement with the state, “In exchange for letting us be your monopoly service we need you to do a few things for us. And we aren’t even going to force you to do it from the profits you make on everything else. We are going to let you charge your customers money to pay for this! Like a 911 fee. In exchange you have to provide those services. EVEN IF THEY LOSE MONEY. Because that’s part of the deal they made get this contract. 

          If they say, ‘Some other company made this deal, not us we need to see who is benefiting from that other part of the contract and say, “Unless you fund this we are going to revoke your money making monopoly.”

          This is kind of like when the corporations make an agreement with workers on a Pension and then years later say, “I don’t want to honor that deal, it’s too expensive, I’m going to break it.” 

          But you promised!
           Sorry suckers. What are you going to do? Sue me? You have no leverage anymore.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            What kind of contracts, surcharges do they use to pay for those phones now?

            As in the ‘universal connectivity fee’ or similar that shows up on everyone’s phone bill.

      • Kimmo says:

        Speaking of common sense, here’s a thought – perhaps it’d be better all round if crucial* infrastructure (where the supposed benefits of commercial competition simply can’t apply) wasn’t operated on a for-profit basis, but, you know, owned by the people who need it? It would be like, for society rather than the few people with lots of capital. I wonder what a good name for such an arrangement would be…

        *snicker at payphones all you like, until you find yourself in an emergency with a flat or missing phone…

        • CH says:

          “snicker at payphones all you like, until you find yourself in an emergency with a flat or missing phone…”
          Dunno… living in a sparsely populated country it wouldn’t matter if there is one pay phone somewhere, the probability of being near one when one actually needed it would be pretty low. There are very few public pay phones in my country anymore, mostly in hospitals. In an emergency here the phone to use would be your or some passerby’s mobile phone.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      How the hell can it cost $1500 to maintain a payphone?

      It’s a 3½ hour drive from the nearest city.  And not near much else in the way of other towns.  That means that it takes one person an entire day to make a repair.

      • Paul Renault says:

         Pish-posh!  I’m familiar with having to provide field service in lower-densely populated areas.  It’s what I do for a living.

        There are a bunch of small towns and villages all over that area – and every other house must have a POTS phone.   They can’t be sending a technician from Sioux Falls for every service call. 

        I’m quite confident that there’s more than one technician roving that area all the time.  In fact, I’d bet a dollar that one lives within one hour’s drive of that pay phone.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          There are a bunch of small towns and villages all over that area

          Not so much.  It’s off the main roads, unlike many of the other towns.

          • Paul Renault says:

             You must live in urban blight.  That picture looks like where I live – ‘cept there’d be the ocean on the right side.

  3. Jimbalaya says:

    When they start reimbursing me for my unused minutes, text messages, and data that I’m still being billed for, then I might shed a tear for a phone company.

  4. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Before the building boom here in the Coachella Valley, c. 2000, you could drive through Mecca and see a line of people sitting in the dirt waiting for their turn at the pay phone.

    • Donald Petersen says:

      Back when I was a production assistant making script deliveries and such for TV shows, I never liked getting paged (yep, that long ago) in Beverly Hills.  I’d always end up having to drive up to the fire station at the top of Beverly Glen and Mulholland to find the nearest pay phone.  They had a cluster of four of them there.  God knows why; I never saw more than one at a time being used.  It’s not like the people who live or drive on Mulholland often needed to pop down to the fire station to place a call.  And it’s not like there are any businesses or foot traffic on Mulholland either.

      Sometimes it would be faster just to drive back to the office to see what the hell they wanted.

  5. mtdna says:

    Does anyone have the number? We should call it.

    • spocko says:

      Agreed. “Hi, the phone you just answered has received international attention.  Could you please explain to our listeners what is happening? ”

  6. That_Anonymous_Coward says:

    If Chamber’s wants to keep their phone all they have to do is one simple thing.
    Offer to start their own community payphone business.
    No…stop…hear me out.
    This has worked at getting broadband to places that should have had broadband years ago, but it would cost money to connect them.  The town council works up a plan, offering awesome deals (ie small profits meant to be folded back into the service) and suddenly the broadband providers are lobbying to get laws to stop the town.  Then they promise they will come in and offer their sub-par inflated cost service  and bully the town out of the ISP business, and come and hook the town up.
    Everyone is paying taxes and fees for their connections that were meant to make sure that everywhere had phones, and interwebs… how they hell are there still unconnected places?  Because small towns don’t yell loud enough.  Its time to make waves and make them wire the whole damn country.

    • spocko says:

       Great idea.

      Also, are you familiar with Free Conference Call. com? I couldn’t figure out how they could make money on the service until I dug into the history. Because of the way the fees and taxes are set up in early agreements with the phone company, when you call their number they MAKE money for every minute. So the more people who call the number and the longer they stay on the line the more money they make.So they figured out what services could they offer to get people to do that. Hence Free Conference Call.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Population 287. Just sayin.

      • That_Anonymous_Coward says:

        But the monopoly players are so terrified of anyone not being under their thumb, and for the idea of community run systems to replace them it shouldn’t be hard to keep a single payphone going.
        There was a tiny little town somewhere in the US that was tired of getting blown off by the local cable co ISP.  So they planned, and were ready to build out a fiber system run by the community.  The monopoly players ran to the state legislature and dumped lots of “donations” on them to get a law banning competition by communities.  And the little town got slightly better service.
        Mind you not as awesome as the community had planned, but for a small town like this to keep a pay phone… not a bad outcome.

  7. garyg2 says:

    Pardon my ignorance but would there be any 24hr businesses in the town (gas station?). Couldn’t they keep a mobile undr the counter for emergencies.  Or would mobile coverage be an issue out there?

    • ocker3 says:

       Perhaps not in a town that small, but that was along the lines of what I was thinking, perhaps a vending machine that sells pre-paid mobiles?

  8. bcsizemo says:

    So what about all those emergency phones I see scattered along interstate highways…
    Might as well rip those out as well since just about any major highway/interstate has cell service.

  9. zarray says:

    Couldn’t the town buy their own pay phone, and piggy back it off the town hall line and do the maintenance themselves? Or are pay phones different?

    • chrizzle23 says:

      it depends on the type of pay phone.  there are phones that are designated by the local carrier to be pay phones via the class of service on the line.  any phone that you plug into one of these line requires a coin to operate, regardless of the hardware plugged into it.  an ages old prank among phone phreaks was to change the class of service on a friend’s residential line to that of a payphone so that when you picked up handset you got a message to insert a coin instead of a dial tone.  the other type is a customer owned coin-op phone (a COCOT in telco parlance) that uses a regular phone line (often with long distance and other toll services disabled) and the pay function is contained within the phone itself.

  10. LogrusZed says:

    JB Weld a Nokia 3310 to a wall with unlimited calling plan. Problem solved.

    • Donald Petersen says:

      I see the customers pressing the side of their heads to the wall to make a call.  Hope there’s a stepstool for the short folks!

      • LogrusZed says:

         speakerphone, yo!

        • Donald Petersen says:

          Forgot about that.  The external speaker on my Android has been fried for months, so I can’t use the speakerphone function anymore if I want to make out what’s being said.

          Plus, people holding phone conversations by talking at a wall, with both sides perfectly audible to passers-by, makes the image even goofier.

          • LogrusZed says:

            That’s the inherent genius of my idea, it prevents people from abusing a free phone. Plus only have enough cover to protect the prone itself from the elements. And you can get a speaker-booster in the form of a cheap AC-powered hands-free unit.

            I’m really only half-joking, here. Granting some standard cell-coverage and a tiny bit of weather-proofing and a wall outlet (also shielded with some sheet-metal or behind some wall material) you could have a phone with unlimited calling for around $600.00 a year plus a couple of bux for electricity.

            I initially just wanted to play at perpetuating the 3310 meme, but the more I think about it the more I’m proud of this idea.

          • Donald Petersen says:

            As well you should be.  I approve!

  11. Donald Petersen says:

    Anyway, I figure if $1500 a year cuts too deeply into a telco’s profit margin to subsidize a conceivably life-saving public service, then perhaps they’re just a wee bit too Mom-n-Pop to be in the telco racket.

    On a related note, this morning AirTalk had a segment about how the big telcos are trying to maneuver themselves out of their century-old universal service obligation known as “provider of last resort.”  Landlines aren’t terribly profitable for them anymore, so they don’t want to be required to provide and maintain such service anymore, even though that requirement was the foundation of ol’ Ma Bell’s agreement with the government to provide the monopoly that AT&T enjoyed for decades.

    It’s worth a listen, particularly for those of you who’d shrug, jokingly ask “What’s a landline?” and trust all your telecommunication needs to wireless, without understanding how its service quality and reliability, particularly during disasters and emergencies, compares with landlines.

  12. Paul Souders says:

    My People are from tiny tiny Nebraska towns just like this in approximately this area and I grew up there so I feel obliged to point a few things out.

    These towns are reeaaally small and reeaaally far from anywhere else, and have been dying a long demographic death. If Chambers is anything like the towns I know (never been to Chambers, indeed never heard of it), much of its population is retired or dying or moves to Grand Island when they graduate high school, and anyone in the area who needs to do business drives 1-2 hours to Norfolk or St. Paul which would have Wal-Mart or at least Wilco. I bet the annual city budget is barely five figures.

    Cel service would be spotty and you get one carrier. (I spent time last summer in Broken Bow, a much larger and more thriving town, and had minimal service and no data. Outside Broken Bow there was no service at all.) There may be no landline high speed internet, most likely it would come via satellite or DSL.

    Chambers doesn’t appear to have a gas station. Wrap your head around that for a minute. I can’t find a church or a bar either but “internet presence” might not be top priority for a business in Chambers, Nebraska. “Town Hall” is probably a file cabinet in the school building.

    I don’t doubt it costs $1500/yr to keep that phone running. My first thought in fact was “that seems too low.”

    The reason places like Chambers ever got electricity or phone service in the first place was the government provided it or forced a monopoly to do so as spocko pointed out above.

    Basically what services Chambers enjoys are unwittingly subsidized by folks in Norfolk or Lincoln or Omaha (or Chicago or Atlanta). Otherwise these services would be way too expensive to maintain. There are good arguments to be made for stopping those subsidies, heck one of the reasons I don’t live there any more is I got fed up with Rugged Rural Individualists who miss this obvious point. Anywho, maybe no one uses Chambers’ payphone so maybe this is an antiquated law but it didn’t happen by accident or for no purpose.

    • Moby Hick says:

      Chambers doesn’t have a church or a bar by the design of its founder, who disapproved of religion and drinking.  Maybe just organized religion or something.  It’s been years since I’ve been there. Amelia was nearby and has (or had) churches. Chambers Corners is a bar a few miles to the other side of town on the main highway.

  13. Joe Buck says:

    The state should solicit competitive bids to provide the service, and fund it by a tax on phone service. If this phone company claims it costs them $1500 per phone to provide the service, another company that thinks it can do so for $1000 per phone and make a profit can solicit the business. The only way costs could be nearly this high is if the phones are being repeatedly vandalized, and if that’s the issue the phone could be placed close to local law enforcement and be built like a safe.

  14. pjcamp says:

    Sorry. This is the price you pay for having a monopoly.

  15. Joe Vanegas says:

    I’m surprised at the small amount of cash. Granted, most people will make collect or calling-card calls, but some will use cash. The last time I used a pay phone they wanted something like $4.35 for a call to a nearby place. (No, I didn’t have that much in change.)  I think there is a lot to the revenue side that they are not telling.  

  16. raines says:

    But how will we escape the Matrix after they cut the hard line?
    http://narwhaler.com/neo-matrix-banana-phone-JBEQe6

  17. Ryan Lenethen says:

    You would think they could build a phone that would detect a malfunction, or the fact that it is full of money, and would require a visit by a technician.

    Otherwise it is their way of doing business that sucks.

    Telcos are ridiculous.

  18. Miss Cellania says:

    Yep. If the K & M Telephone Co. can’t afford to supply the public service required of them, they should get out of the public utility business, or let their more profitable competitors take a shot at it.

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