After enjoying a century without competition or much innovation, payphones are becoming an “endangered species” in a telecoms landscape dominated by wireless. You may have used one some while ago, but now, with a smartphone in your pocket, I can think of only one reason for using a payphone: your smartphone’s battery is dead, and you need to make an urgent call.
But you’ll need to find one of the 66,997 legacy pieces that resisted the “wireless competition”, a number that will likely drop further. Bell has about 45,000 payphones left, while Telus operates the remaining 12,000. This – nearly 70,000 – is less than half of the 185,000 payphones recorded in 1998.
According to a report published by the Financial Post, average revenue per payphone dropped to $413 in 2015, from about $2,500 in 1998. That means telcos made roughly $27.7 million in revenue last year, the report reads, which is only a fraction (about 6%) of the $466.8 million earned in 1998. By comparison, wireless increased to $22.6 billion last year, from $3.8 billion in 1998.
But Bell says the payphone business is not going to disappear anytime soon. “It’s a good business, where we do have high traffic”, she said. “The infrastructure investment has been made and, therefore, in the high-traffic areas, it’s a good business.”
The telcos operating payphones, however, want to convince the CRTC to ease up on some of the regulations that bind payphones, such as wholesale access to payphone lines at a 25% discount.
Bell says payphones are essential for people with disabilities or in social assistance, low-income families and the homeless.
Close to 7,000 payphones “died” last year alone, according to a report from the CRTC.
Image credit: Financial Post