FAQs about the Payphone Industry

How many payphones are there in the United States?
According to industry sources, there are less than 500,000 payphones in the United States; independent payphone service providers operate roughly 450,000 of those payphones. Payphones process 1.7 billion calls per year, so clearly they are valued by many people in this country.

Is there a standard rate for local calls made from payphones across the country?
No, there is no standard rate across the country for local calls made from payphones. Payphone providers typically charge 25 cents or 50 cents for a local call, depending on the area. Some even charge as low as 10 cents in some areas.

Is there a standard rate for a long distance call from payphones across the country?
No, there is no standard rate across the country to place a long distance call from a payphone. The payphone industry is made up of more than 1,700 payphone companies. Each company can set their own payphone rates as long as they are in compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) orders. However, many APCC members do offer long distance rates for as low as 10 cents per minute - 10 minutes for $1 - anywhere in the U.S. when paid by coin.

How will I know how much it costs to make a call from a payphone?
All PSPs are required to have cost information either posted at every payphone or available via toll-free numbers.

Is it less expensive to use a payphone than wireless communication?
Yes, if you pay by coin at a payphone, it can be less expensive than wireless alternatives.

Is it less expensive to use a prepaid phone card than paying by coin at a payphone?
No, quite often it is much more expensive to use a prepaid phone card.

What’s the best way to make a long distance call from a payphone?
In most cases, the most economical way to make a long distance call from a payphone is to use coins. Consumers also may use their calling cards or any of the collect platforms that are available from long distance carriers or from the payphone itself. Rate quotes are available from long distance carriers before calls are connected and before any charges are incurred.

What about these stories we hear about people being charged too much for calls from payphones?
Most PSPs do not charge rates that would be considered "high" by the average payphone user, and furthermore, PSPs are required to post or announce rates before a call is made. In addition, the payphone industry has supported the steps federal and state regulators have taken to help give consumers the best calling options. For example, regulators have capped the price of certain kinds of calls made from payphones.

What should I do if I make an incomplete call from a payphone and it does not return my money?
In the unfortunate, and unlikely, event that this might happen, there is a number to call FREE of charge located on the payphone to contact the payphone service provider who owns the phone.

Are all 911 calls free from payphones?
Yes, all 911 calls are FREE from payphones.

Why don't payphones give change?
The equipment required for this function would be too unwieldy and too costly. This overall investment has been estimated by some in the industry to be $2 billion or more, and would undoubtedly cause the price of a local payphone call to at least double or triple in order to recover the cost of new equipment and technology necessary to provide such capability. Payphone customers are still able to use any combination of quarters, dimes and nickels to place a local call from any public payphone.

How does the payphone industry compete with the cell phone industry?
The payphone industry provides a very important service to both cell phone users and non-cell phone users. They are of particular value to the 14 million Americans who have no home phone service, and the 140 million who do not own cell phones.
The payphone industry competes with wireless calling in many ways. The price of a payphone call is still a good value when compared to the capital investment, basic charge, usage charges and surcharges that wireless users incur. Payphone companies provide service that is clear, secure, reliable and uninterrupted -- benefits that payphone users have come to expect and wireless users can appreciate. In addition, callers do not have to worry about dead batteries, static, or lost signals when using payphones.
Consumers may not be able to carry a payphone on their hip, but payphones are convenient, economical, and easy to use. In addition, payphones offer a full array of billing options, from coins to cards.

Why are some payphones not in the best of shape?
Payphone service providers know that customers want payphones that work, that are clean, and are easy to find. They also understand that these customers and location owners expect and deserve high-quality, reliable and accessible payphone service.
Most PSPs are committed to a high standard of service for their customers. These PSPs work hard on behalf of their payphone customers to provide a high quality of service at their payphones. Their goal is to ensure that their payphones are clean, available and working when their customers need to use them. After all, when the payphone is not in good working order, the PSP receives no revenue.
Despite these considerable efforts, payphones remain easy targets for those who damage or deface them. They are intentionally exposed to passersby and other traffic; and, because they are widespread, it is often very difficult to catch the vandals. It is unfortunate that vandalism at payphones can sometimes reflect a growing element of vandalism in our overall society. PSPs take any intentional interference with their payphone service very seriously and will prosecute - to the fullest degree - anyone who is involved in payphone vandalism, destruction or theft.

Should there be service standards for the payphone industry?
There already are service standards for the payphone industry. They are dictated by the competitive nature of the industry itself. The thousands of competing payphone companies, the wireless alternative, the demands of the payphone user and the stringent service requirements of the location owners assure a standard of good service. The PSP that ignores this issue will surely fail in the marketplace.

Should there be "public interest payphones" available to serve the community?
Local governmental agencies are in the best position to determine where the public interest payphone is needed at a particular location. They bear the responsibility for ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of the general public and are most familiar with the needs of their constituencies. This is one of the reasons the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggested that local agencies be responsible for public interest payphones and fund them through procurement conditions in service contracts. The APCC has long supported the use of public interest payphones in order to safeguard the public's health and safety in areas where the marketplace prevents the deployment of privately owned, commercial payphones. However, the use of public interest payphones should not replace or prevent the deployment of privately owned commercial payphones in areas where the marketplace will support their deployment.

When communities raise concerns about payphones, how does the industry respond?
PSPs are always willing to work with local organizations, law enforcement agencies and location providers to come up with viable solutions to certain concerns within a community. Payphones provide a significant public service, and their use is overwhelmingly for valid and legitimate purposes. The industry has taken a number of steps to ensure that citizens around the country are not deprived of a legitimate, and often lifesaving, communications device.
The payphone industry, as a whole, regrets that their equipment is sometimes used in ways that raise serious social concerns. We do not believe, however, that payphones themselves are the cause of these concerns, and have been working with the appropriate government authorities to assist in addressing community needs. The industry has been a strong supporter of joint public/private efforts that approach the issue of crime reasonably, allowing legitimate business activity while considering the community need for access to telecommunications services.
One example of these types of efforts is when payphone providers restrict the use of the payphone. For example, if a state public service commission allows such a restriction, certain payphones can be programmed to provide outgoing calls only. This is generally done to help deter loitering and to keep tied-up payphones from inconveniencing other customers. For this type of arrangement, some states require approvals by local law enforcement and the state public service commission, although the ultimate decision-making authority usually rests with the payphone location provider. (For the record, under ordinary circumstances, the overwhelming majority of the nation's payphones are equipped to handle both incoming and outgoing calls for customers.)

What is the payphone industry's position on the growing number of local taxes, fees and license requirements for payphones?
The payphone industry understands that PSPs have an obligation to the communities that support their payphone businesses. Typically, PSPs have been very willing to work with local officials to address social issues and have a long track record of such cooperation. It is just good business to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions.
The industry believes, however, that too often PSPs and payphones are being targeted to provide expedient solutions to issues that have little to do with social concern. Or, that if true social concern is the motivation for a payphone ordinance, it is based on popular belief rather than fact. Burdensome taxes, licenses and administrative hurdles stifle competition and reduce the availability of payphones to those who need them. Municipalities that feel compelled to regulate the extent to which payphone services are made available to the public should consider the consequences to the community and the PSP and reconsider the effectiveness of public-private partnerships that solve problems together.

What is the payphone industry doing to meet consumer demand for access to data and information?
There's a greater expectation in our society for communications for people "on the go" and payphones - in various capacities - will continue to fill a communications need for customers for many years to come. Some payphone companies are deploying interactive payphones with such value-added features as Internet access, fax-on-demand, and electronic commerce. This new technology allows access to the Internet, the ability to send or receive e-mail messages, and access to local, national and world news, weather forecasts and travel information.

Why are the rates higher for collect calls from correctional facilities?
The rates for collect calls from corrections facilities can be higher than normal collect rates because of the additional costs associated with the specialized equipment and features required to control fraud and to allow the corrections facility administration a certain degree of control over inmate activity. These rates have become an issue not because of what PSPs are charging, but rather because of recent rate increases by certain long distance carriers who set the end user prices for long distance inmate collect calls.