Glossary of terms for the payphone industry
0- - A customer walks up to a payphone and dials the digit zero, but doesn’t dial any other digits.
00 - A customer goes to a payphone and dials 00.
0+ - A customer goes to a payphone and dials zero plus the number he wishes to reach.
1+ - A customer deposits coins and dials 1+ the area code and phone number he wishes to call.
00 - LEC coding digits (see ANI ii) - calls generating “00” coding digits cannot be identified as eligible for dial-around compensation because 00 designates a general business line rather than a payphone line.
07 - LEC coding digits (see ANI ii) - calls generating “07” coding digits require additional operator screening and are restricted for billing purposes. This code designates a dumb payphone line for a smart payphone. Also, it designates other types of lines not eligible for payphone compensation such as hotel/motel or hospital lines.
70 - LEC coding digits (see ANI ii) - calls generating “70” use the correct coding digits required for per-call dial-around compensation for smart payphones.
101XXXX - An access code used to reach a specific interexchange carrier’s (IXC’s) network. This sequence of numbers is dialed, in addition to the telephone number, to complete a call. Each IXC has a unique seven digit code. For example, 1010288 is AT&T’s access code.
800 number - The original toll-free area code. Companies use it for inbound toll-free calls, i.e. their customers can call them for free. As 800 numbers have been exhausted, 866, 877 and 888 have been added as new toll-free numbers.
900 and 976 numbers - These “area codes” allow end users to access information services or conference services on a per-call basis. These types of calls are generally blocked at payphones, as they are billed to the originating number.
AC-powered payphone - A type of payphone that derives its electric power for the smart board from an external transformer that converts normal house current (110 volts) to a lower voltage for the payphone. See also line-powered payphone.
Access codes - Dialing patterns used to reach a specific interexchange carrier’s (IXC’s) network. Billing and destination information must be provided before call completion. Examples are 950-NXXX, 101XXXX, and toll-free numbers (800, 866, 877, 888).
Acoustic coupler - a special type of modem used to connect a standard telephone handset to a terminal, which allows data transmissions.
Aggregator - In payphone industry vernacular, this is an entity that brings together a number of smaller PSP customers, thereby creating a larger “customer.” The aggregator then shops this “collective” book of business to service providers. Ostensibly, the PSPs benefit by receiving better prices than they would have gotten on their own. It should be noted that the FCC defines aggregator as “any person that, in the ordinary course of its operations, makes telephone calls available to the public or to transient users of its premises, for interstate telephone calls using a provider of operator services.”
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - Signed by President Bush on July 26, 1991, the Act paves the way for public accommodations and public services to “…take those steps that may be necessary to ensure that no individual with disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals.” The ADA prohibits discrimination in many areas, including telecommunications. In accordance with the law, many PSPs and other aggregators have made various accommodations at their sites, for example, the addition of TDDs, which open payphones to 22 million deaf and hearing impaired customers and 2.1 million speech impaired customers.
ANI Digit Identification System (ADIS) - An APCC Services product that will identify the LEC coding digits that are being emitted by the LEC and picked up by the IXC. See automatic number identification.
ANI information identifier (ANI ii) - LEC coding digits that IXCs need in order to track calls and pay PSPs for dial-around compensation. See automatic number identification.
Anti-drill plate - A tempered plate (typically steel) that sits between the coin return and the right outside wall of the payphone that prevents vandals from easily accessing the coin box.
Anti-stuffing device - A coin return that is built with a trap door to prevent stuffing.
Armored cable - A stainless steel, spring wound handset cord that houses the lanyard.
Automatic number identification (ANI) - The telephone number of a payphone. Typically used as a noun to mean a particular payphone.
Blue grommet - A blue rubber collar that acts as a strain relief between a lanyard and a handset.
Bong tone - A tone (i.e. sound) generated by the LEC, IXC or OSP that prompts a caller to enter information on the keypad, such as a calling card number or a credit card number.
Buttset - A specialized telephone set used by technicians to diagnose payphone lines and make test calls.
Call detail reporting (CDR) - See station message detail reporting (SMDR).
Calling card - LECs and IXCs issue calling cards to their customers; customers use them to place telephone calls when away from home. The carriers then bill their customers for the calls.
Card reader - Payphones may be equipped with two different types of card readers: a standard credit card reader that can read and bill merchant credit cards, or a smart card reader that can accept prepaid or rechargeable smart cards, and debit the smart card at the time of the call. Payphones equipped with smart card readers are not common in the United States, but are more widespread internationally.
Central office - Refers to a physical place where the LEC switches and switching systems are located. It’s also where the local loops interface with the public telephone network.
Coin box - A metal box that sits inside the payphone in the lower housing. When all systems are functioning properly, all the coins deposited into the payphone end up in the coin box.
Coin mechanism - A mechanical or electronic device that accepts, routes and verifies coins deposited in the payphone.
Coin-operated pay telephone (COPT) line - See public access line.
Coin relay and hopper assembly - One of the many parts inside a payphone. The hopper holds the coins in a compartment, and after receiving a signal from the motherboard, the relay is used to mechanically fire the coins into the coin box or out to the coin return. Also known as the escrow.
Coin return - If a person using a payphone is due any money, the phone will send the money down to the coin return. The caller pushes the flap in to retrieve the coins.
Collect call - A call that is paid for by the called party.
Competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) - Alternative local exchange carriers that operate in certain parts of the country and compete with incumbent LECs.
Customer owned coin-operated telephone (COCOT) line - see public access line.
Demarc - Technically speaking, this is the interface between the telephone company’s equipment and the customer’s equipment. In the payphone world, the demarc is typically found on a business’ property where the network interface device (NID) is located. (It could be inside or outside the building, or nearby inside a freestanding pedestal.) In layman’s terms, the NID is the little box where the wires from the LEC terminate on site. PSPs go into the same box to connect their lines to the LEC lines to get dial tone. In the payphone industry, the terms demarc and NID are used interchangeably. See also network interface device.
Dial-around compensation - Compensation required by the FCC to be paid to PSPs for handling toll-free or access code calls. For example, if a person dials 1800CALLATT from a payphone, AT&T compensates the PSP for the call, because the AT&T customer is using the payphone to access his carrier of choice. FCC regulations currently set the rate for these payments at 49.4 cents per completed call. Completing carriers make these payments on a quarterly basis.
Divestiture - The 1982 antitrust consent decree signed by AT&T that went into effect on Jan. 1, 1984. AT&T agreed to divest itself of the Bell telephone and other companies. See also regional Bell operating company.
Dual tone multifrequency (DTMF) - A fancy way of saying Touchtone, which used to be an AT&T trademark. It’s a basic term for “push button” dialing, wherein you push the keypad buttons to dial your call. When you push each key, two tones are emitted that communicate with the network and allow you to place your call. See also Touchtone.
Dumb payphone - A payphone with no internal “smarts” that gets its intelligence from the LEC’s central office switch. In the past, most LECs used dumb payphones, but today many LECs use smart payphones.
End user common line (EUCL) charge - An FCC-approved charge that telephone companies may charge subscribers. This monthly charge compensates the LEC for the bulk of the nontraffic sensitive network costs, as contrasted with the usage-sensitive costs, of providing the local service that has been allocated to the interstate jurisdiction. PSPs see this charge on their LEC phone bills. Also known as the subscriber line charge (SLC).
Escrow - see coin relay and hopper assembly.
FLEX ANI - A LEC software switch-based program that can provide specific coding digit information to IXCs so they can properly track and pay per-call dial-around compensation. See also ANI ii.
Ground - All telecommunications equipment, including payphones, must be properly grounded to function safely and properly. Literally, grounding is when a conducting object, such as a wire, is connected to an object and tied to a connection to the earth through a water pipe or ground rod, leaving no potential for a shock hazard.
Handset - The hand-held transmitter (microphone) and receiver (ear piece) mounted as a single unit in a hard plastic shell. It is attached to a payphone by a lanyard that is housed in armored cable.
Hot spot - Refers to a geographic area within which one is able to access the Internet via wireless (i.e. Wi-Fi) technology. See also Wi-Fi.
Interexchange carrier (IXC) - Long distance carriers such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint.
Keypad - Replaced the old rotary dial. Allows a payphone user to dial the numbers required to complete his call. Also known as a touch call pad or touch pad. See also rotary dial.
Lanyard - The reinforced steel running through the armored cable of a handset. It securely connects the handset to the payphone.
Letter of agency (LOA) - A formal letter that has many uses. It authorizes the payphone provider to act on behalf of his customer (i.e. location owner) and order a payphone line. An LOA also can be used to allow the IXC to act on a PSP’s behalf to PIC payphone lines to the IXC.
Line information database (LIDB) - A database developed by the Bell companies. It allows different telephone companies to exchange information for billing purposes.
Line-powered payphone - A payphone that is designed to use the low voltage from the telephone wire and an internal battery to power its smart board. Most independent PSPs use line-powered phones. See also AC-powered payphone.
Liquid crystal display (LCD) - Used in sophisticated payphones, the LCD is a small screen that displays dialing instructions, numbers dialed and other information for callers.
Local access and transport area (LATA) - A geographic area within which a LEC is authorized to provide local and long distance telephone service under the original decree that broke up the Bell system. Since various BOCs were, prior to 2003, prohibited from providing interLATA services, LATA boundaries were formerly much more important.
Local exchange carrier (LEC) - A telephone company that provides local telephone service. In some cases, LECs offer long distance, Internet and other telecom services.
Loop - A local communication path between a central office and a subscriber.
Lower housing - The housing for the components located in the lower part of the payphone.
Motherboard - The main circuit board in a smart payphone. All of the payphone components, i.e. the keypad, handset, and telephone wire plug into the motherboard. The motherboard knows what to charge for each call, knows how to time each call, knows whether to collect or return coins and collects SMDR data.
Network interface device (NID) - A grounded box or panel that the LEC installs at the demarc that usually houses the lightning suppressor and has RJ-11 type jacks and screw terminals so subscribers may access the lines. In layman’s terms, the NID is the little box where the wires from the LEC terminate on site. PSPs go into the same box to connect their lines to the LEC lines to get dial tone. In the payphone industry, the terms demarc and NID are used interchangeably. See also demarc.
New services test (NST) - As part of the implementation of the Telecom Act of 1996, the FCC required the RBOCs to establish nondiscriminatory, cost-based retail rates for all elements of payphone service. The FCC directed the RBOCs to use as a guideline NST principles as established in previous FCC Orders. Under NST principles, RBOCs are required to identify the direct and indirect costs of the service and may add a “reasonable” overhead allocation. However, each RBOC must justify the methodology it uses to derive the final retail prices. PSPs across the country are working to ensure NST compliance for payphone line rates.
Noise - Any component of a signal that produces an undesirable sound on a communication channel. In other words, if you’re on the phone and you hear some crackling or hissing sounds, that is considered noise. Noise can interfere with the proper functioning of a payphone (and other telecom equipment).
Non-sent paid - Any call that is made where the person doesn’t deposit money into the payphone at the time of the call. Examples include calling card calls, collect calls or calls that are billed to a third party.
NPA-NXX-XXXX - Shorthand for area code, + central office number (NXX) and subscriber line number (XXXX). In other words, the 10 digits that identify a telephone number.
Number portability - It is a term used to describe the capability of individuals, businesses, and organizations to retain their existing telephone number(s) when switching to a new local service provider.
Off hook/on hook - Off hook is when a handset is lifted off the cradle, completing a telephone connection. On hook is when the receiver is placed back in the cradle, thus breaking the connection.
Operator-assisted calls - Calls that require an operator’s assistance to complete. Examples include station to station, third party billing, collect, and person to person calls.
Operator service provider (OSP) - An OSP is a carrier that provides operator services from public phones, including payphones and hotel/motel phones.
Payphone service provider (PSP) - A company that owns and operates payphones. PSPs can be independent or affiliated with the local exchange carriers who once had monopoly control over the industry. Most independent PSPs are mom-and-pop businesses with less than 100 phones, although there are a small number of independents who operate thousands of payphones.
Pedestal - A tall, rectangular support (steel or aluminum) on which a payphone housing and enclosure is mounted.
Person to person - An operator-assisted call in which the caller specifies a particular person or extension to speak with. It is one of the highest cost long distance calls.
Point of presence (POP) - The point at which LECs connect with an IXC.
Pound sign redial - A feature offered by local or long distance telephone companies that allows a caller to make a subsequent call without hanging up by hitting the “#” key after making a calling card call.
Prepaid cards - A caller buys a prepaid card with a certain amount of long distance time on it, say $25 worth. When the caller uses the card, the amount of time he uses on each call is deducted until the card runs out of time.
Presubscription - This term is left over from the days when AT&T was a monopoly, and all long distance service defaulted to the AT&T network. When the FCC allowed long distance competition, it gave the new incoming market entrants the opportunity to sign up customers, who would “presubscribe” to service from their carrier of choice. In the payphone industry, “presubscription” describes the selection of a particular long distance carrier by the PSP to handle all the 1+ or 0+ calls from a payphone. A payphone is “presubscribed” to a certain carrier, which means the LEC switch itself is programmed to route 1+ or 0+ calls from the payphone to the particular carrier. If the owner of the phone or payphone fails to proactively choose a presubscribed carrier of choice, the LEC will assign a presubscribed carrier via a lottery-type selection process. See also primary interexchange carrier.
Primary interexchange carrier (PIC) - This is essentially the same as presubscription. A PSP chooses a long distance carrier for its payphones; all 1+ and 0+ calls made from the payphones will go through this long distance carrier, hence the term PIC. Common usage in the industry is to say a line is “PICed” to a certain carrier, which means the LEC’s switch is programmed to have your calls automatically go through the carrier you have chosen. Many PSPs choose the “PIC none” option with the LEC so they can easily identify long distance fraud charges that appear on their LEC phone bill. If PSPs choose “PIC none,” they program their payphones to automatically (i.e. internally) dial a particular carrier’s access code when a customer places a 1+ or 0+ call. See also presubscription.
Public access line - The type of central office line used to connect smart payphones to the LEC network. This type of service has specific blocking and other features that differentiate this type of line from other types of lines the LEC offers. In some parts of the country, this is also known as a coin-operated pay telephone (COPT) line or a customer owned, coin-operated telephone (COCOT) line.
Public service commission/Public utilities commission (PSC/PUC) - The state government agency that regulates utility issues within the state. Most commonly, this includes the electric, water, natural gas and telecom industries. These agencies regulate the charges that RBOCs and LECs can charge PSPs.
Push to talk - Not used very much today, but it’s a method of payphone operation in which the caller pushes a button to talk when the called party answers. Once he pushes the button, money is collected and the handset microphone is turned on.
Rate table - Downloadable software files that determine pricing for coin calls made from smart payphones. The rate table determines the NPA-NXX of the originating payphone, determines the NPA-NXX of the call to be placed, and asks the caller to make the appropriate coin deposit.
Refurbished - Refurbished means that equipment is cleaned, repaired and restored to “like or near new” working condition. See also remanufactured.
Regional Bell operating company (RBOC) - An RBOC refers to the seven local telephone companies created in 1984 as part of the breakup (divestiture) of AT&T. The original seven were Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, NYNEX, Pacific Telesis Group, Southwestern Bell, and US WEST. Today, many of these companies have merged and now there are four RBOCs left – SBC (which merged with AT&T and took the AT&T name); Verizon (which Bell Atlantic and GTE merged to form); Qwest, which acquired US WEST; and BellSouth. At the time of this writing, AT&T was planning on purchasing BellSouth. RBOCs are sometimes referred to as simply BOCs, or Bell operating companies.
Remanufactured - Remanufactured means that equipment is cleaned, repaired and modified to the same specs as new equipment. Remanufacturing is a higher end process than refurbishing. Companies who offer this service typically have manufacturing facilities/ capabilities and therefore replace deficient parts with new parts. See also refurbished.
Resale carrier or reseller - This is a company that does not own transmission facilities, but obtains wholesale communications services via a resale agreement from a facilities-based carrier.
RJ-11 - A standard telephone connection. The plug is a male RJ-11 and the jack is a female RJ-11.
Rotary dial - A round, mechanical, spring-loaded dialing mechanism that interrupts, i.e. pulses, the telephone circuit as the dial returns to its home position. In most parts of the country, this has been replaced with the keypad. See also keypad.
Route management software - A PC-based software system that PSPs use to monitor their routes. These systems can manage everything from commission checks to invoicing to repair tickets and collection schedules.
Section 276 - The payphone services section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that intended to ensure fair competition in the payphone industry and promote the widespread deployment of payphones. Section 276 mandates that PSPs be fairly compensated for every call made from a payphone (except emergency and TRS calls). See also Telecom Act.
Sent-paid - Calls made from a payphone by making coin deposits.
Slamming - The illegal process of changing the presubscribed carrier on a telephone line without the permission of the subscriber. This can happen on payphones as well.
Slug - 1. A worthless metal coin-sized disk that people use instead of coins to try to trick a payphone into making a call. 2. The slimy thing you touch by accident sometimes when you reach inside a dark, damp pedestal.
Smart card - A card (similar to a credit card in appearance) that is embedded with either a microprocessor and a memory chip or only a memory chip with non-programmable logic. The microprocessor card can add, delete, and otherwise manipulate information on the card. In foreign countries, it is common for payphones to be equipped to accept smart cards as payment.
Smart payphone - A smart payphone refers to a payphone that has its “smarts” within, i.e. on a motherboard, as opposed to dumb phones, where the intelligence resides in the central office (CO). The majority, if not all, of independent PSPs use smart phones, and now many LECs use them too. See also dumb payphone.
Special information tones (SIT) - Tones that are used on the telephone network to indicate a problem. You’ll hear them when there is a problem with the number you’ve dialed. It’s a series of three tones followed by a recorded announcement that indicates what the problem is. Sample problems could be that a circuit is unavailable or a number is out of order or no longer in service.
Speed dialing - A feature that lets callers dial a specific number with an abbreviated dialing pattern, i.e. #34, vs. dialing the full telephone number. Some PSPs use speed dialing as part of special services or programs. For example, speed dial keys could be programmed to go to towing companies, locksmith services or even community service groups.
Station message detail reporting (SMDR) - A series of call records created by a smart payphone that allows for phone call accounting and tracking. It gives specific details of attempted and completed calls. The report also indicates the time and date of each call, the termination ANI and the call duration. In the payphone industry, this is also known as call detail reporting (CDR).
Stuffing - Stuffing is when a person pushes something — usually paper or other trash — into the coin path to block the coins. This can be done from either the top (coin slot) or bottom (coin return) of the payphone. Most often, this is done so the person can come back and collect the money later.
Subscriber line charge (SLC) - See end user common line charge.
Switch - A physical piece of electronic or computerized gear located in a LEC central office. The LEC switch routes calls throughout its local network, or routes calls to carrier tandems or long distance trunks. A call placed from a payphone, home or business travels the wire loop, terminates at the nearest LEC central office, and is routed via the LEC switch.
T-key (or T-wrench) - A special wrench used to open the upper and lower housings of payphones.
Tabletop phone - A payphone that is similar in looks and size to an old-time Bell residential telephone. It has a bulged shape that accommodates the coin box. These phones, which are not too common anymore, are placed in locations that wouldn’t support a regular wall-mounted payphone.
Tariff - A tariff is a statement by a communications company that sets forth the services offered by that company, and the rates, terms and conditions for the use of those services.
Telco - Most often used to refer to a LEC.
Telecom Act - The Telecommunications Act of 1996 added many provisions to the existing Communications Act, and amended many others. Central purposes of the 1996 Act were to promote competition, increase consumer choices and stimulate technological innovations. See also Section 276, which is part of the Act.
Telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) - A device that allows the deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired to make telephone calls. Basically, it’s like a word processor with a modem; the basic model has a keyboard, acoustic cups and a 20-character display. TDDs communicate with one another by sending signals over the phone line. Each user types his conversation; both ends of the conversation are displayed on the machine. They are also known as text telephones or TTYs. Don’t ask us how that acronym works, but that’s the way it is.
Third party call - A call that is charged to a number that is not on the calling or receiving end of the call.
Tip and ring - A commonly used term that refers to the positive and negative wires in a telephone circuit.
Toll fraud - Any fraudulent action taken by a caller to avoid paying charges for a call, such as using another person’s calling card number, using stolen credit cards, or hacking into a PBX or phone line and then placing calls.
Toll-free call - A type of service wherein the “called party” pays for the call as opposed to the calling party. For example, if a person dials 1-800-FLOWERS, the flower service pays for the call. As 800 numbers have been exhausted, 866, 877 and 888 have been added as new toll-free numbers.
Touchtone - Touchtone used to be an AT&T trademark, but now it’s a basic term for “push button” dialing, wherein you push the keypad buttons to dial your call. When you push each key, two tones are emitted that communicate with the network and allow you to place your call. See also dual tone multifrequency.
Trigger switch - The device inside the payphone that recognizes nickels, dimes and quarters and reports the information to the motherboard. Also known as a coin signaling device/unit.
Unbundled network element (UNE) - A term that describes the specific network elements or functionalities into which an “end-to-end” LEC service can be broken down. The intent is to allow competitors to access the incumbent local exchange carrier to purchase only the specific unbundled network elements they require, and not be required to purchase a “bundled” LEC service designed by the incumbent LEC. In this manner, competitors can design their own services using the incumbent LEC’s facilities to the extent necessary to complement their own. The FCC determines which UNEs are available from the incumbent LEC. UNEs must be priced at a “wholesale” rate that is much lower than rates traditionally charged by incumbent LECs.
Universal service fund (USF) - A universal monetary fund that can be accessed by both wireline and wireless carriers, as a means to subsidize the cost of providing communication services to high cost areas such as rural communities, as well as schools and other public institutions. The USF is funded through mandatory contributions by telecom companies passed on to end users, including PSPs.
Upper housing - The housing for the components located in the upper part of the payphone.
Validation - The process of verifying that a telephone call can be billed in the manner in which the customer is requesting. For example, if a customer uses a LEC or IXC calling card, the carrier would check to see that it is a valid card before putting the call through. If the caller used a merchant credit card, the carrier would first validate the card before completing the call. If the call is placed collect or billed to a third party number, the carrier would validate that the ANI in question can be billed.
Vault door - The heavily armored door that sits in front of the coin box, mostly to prevent theft and vandalism.
Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) - A method of taking analog audio signals — the kind used to transmit telephone calls over the phone line today — and converting those signals into digital data, called packets, that can be transmitted over the Internet as opposed to phone lines. In plain language, VoIP allows you to place telephone calls over the Internet.
Web payphone - A payphone/kiosk that customers can use to either make telephone calls or surf the Internet. A large New York-based independent PSP, TCC Teleplex, has installed dozens of the units at outdoor locations in and around New York City.
Wi-Fi - Wi-Fi refers to wireless high speed Internet access. A typical Wi-Fi network uses a high speed Internet line (usually DSL) to distribute wireless Internet access to multiple users at speeds of up to 11 megabytes per second, within an indoor range of roughly 300 feet and an outdoor range of about 800 feet. See also hot spot.
Compiled by George Sowards, Tracey Timpanaro and Steve Klein
Editor’s note: We would like to thank the following people for assisting in the compilation of the glossary: APCC Services, Bob Driver, Joe Donovan, Walter Goff, Greg Hogan, Al Kramer, Gary Pace and Barry Selvidge.