Karen Chrjapin doesn't remember the last time she used a public pay phone.
It has been at least since she got her cell phone, which she admits she can't live without.
"I could before I got one, no problem," Chrjapin said, adding that if she ever forgets her cell phone at home she happily turns her car around to go back for it. "I feel naked without it."
Like Chrjapin, many callers, both locally and nationwide, have turned their backs on pay phones in favor of mobile technology.
The Federal Communications Commission's 2005 annual report stated that mobile telephone service providers reported 203.7 million subscribers at the end of 2005. That number is 12 percent, or 22.6 million, more than in 2004.
Cell phone subscribers in Georgia grew from 2.5 million in 1999 to more than 6.1 million at the end of 2005, according to the FCC.
While cell phone use grows drastically, the number of pay phones is steadily declining. The country's nearly 2.1 million pay phones in 1997 had declined to more than 1.3 million by the end of 2004, according to the FCC.
Stan Shepherd, a regional manager of BellSouth in Augusta, said his company stopped operating pay phones at the end of 2003. Local pay phones are now operated by independent companies.
Chris Wynn, operations manager for Hippodrome Corp., said his company owns and operates 64 pay phones in Columbia County including pairs of phones at two Columbia Road Circle K convenience stores at Belair Road and at Washington Road. The company, which began as Nevada Pay Phones, operates pay phones from California to Florida and has seen a drastic decline that coincides with the rising popularity and accessibility of mobile phones.
"About half of our phones we have removed over, I would say, the past three years," Wynn said.
Chrjapin said she understands a pay phone's worth, because a pay phone is the only way her 19-year-old son can call from his indoctrination at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
"There's still a need. I don't think they (pay phones) will ever completely go away," she said.
Barry Selvidge, the executive director of the Georgia Public Communications Association, agrees that pay phones will never be completely phased out. The association is a trade organization that acts as a statewide legal, regulatory and legislative advocate for the interests of independent pay phone providers operating in the state.
"In this new world that we are in, a pay phone takes on a new importance because of the threat of terrorism and the need for homeland security," Selvidge said, adding that in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, pay phones were one of the only forms of telecommunications equipment still operating after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Public pay phones are important for such disasters and also for the 14 million Americans without home phone service and the 140 million without cell phones, according to the American Public Communications Council.
Dr. Margie Hamilton, the principal of Greenbrier High School, said she often sees students use the school's one pay phone during times of teenage emergency - at lunch time when students who use their cell phones have them taken away. A second phone was taken out in the spring because it didn't get enough use.
Evans High Principal Don Bridgon has worked at the school for 10 years and remembers in his early years at the school seeing students lined up to use the two pay phones after school, mostly calling for rides home. A third outside phone lasted only two years before it was taken out in 2003, Brigdon said.
"I have seen students use them occasionally, during lunch maybe," Brigdon said. "... Everybody has got a cell phone."
The Georgia Public Service Commission registers all pay phone operators in the state, but does not keep records of how many pay phones those companies or individuals operate, said Delancey Todd, a commission program operations manager.
Selvidge, whose association boasts 35 pay phone operating companies, said if Hippodrome Corp. operates 64 pay phones in Columbia County, he estimates there to be a few hundred pay phones total in the county.
Joseph Romanoski, a manager of the Verizon Communications Public Telephone Division, said his company operates about 350 pay phones in Georgia and 260,000 nationwide. He said the number of pay phones Verizon operates has declined in the past few years at 2 to 5 percent per year.
"But if you look underneath that trend, there are locations that used to have two or three pay phones servicing it and now those locations may have one phone remaining,'' Selvidge said. "So while the total number of pay phones has certainly been reduced, the total number of locations that are being serviced by pay phones has not gone down."
Selvidge said many pay phone operators are now installing air or vacuum machines in the same locations as their pay phones.
"That helps them offset some of the losses of the pay phone itself. Pay phone providers are trying to be creative to keep business going and maintain service."
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