Wrong Number

The writer of the story on privately owned pay phones (Jan. 3, "Pay Phones: After a Slow Start, Prospects Look a Little Brighter for Private Firms") should have spoken to users of these devices to get the other side of the story. Those of us who work in the field a lot have learned to avoid them.

There are many problems: charges, in some cases, for calls that aren't completed, including sometimes-outrageous charges for calls that are supposed to be toll-free; programming that prevents users from calling numbers with certain prefixes; a lack of phone books, and a lack of operator assistance. Also, you usually find that, after the phone has already collected your money for a call, it does not let you use the Touch-Tone pad to retrieve messages from your answering machine or voice mail, nor can you use the long-distance service you choose.

The sad fact is that when a person needs to use a public phone, he or she is not usually in a position to shop around, rendering free-market principles meaningless. The public is taken for a ride so that a few merchants can make a few extra dollars.


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