The Price of Convenience

Heading to a pay phone? You'd better bring some serious coinage because Pacific Bell is hiking the cost of a local call to 50 cents, a 43% boost.

The state's largest phone company has been charging 35 cents per call since October 1997, when it increased the cost from the previous price of 20 cents.

The new prices will be phased in during the next few months throughout PacBell's service area, as well as in the 12 other states served by phone companies owned by SBC Communications Inc. All phones will be converted by September, the company said.

PacBell is the state's dominant pay-phone provider, operating an estimated 110,000 phones out of a statewide total of about 236,000. Pay-phone prices vary by provider, but the California Payphone Assn. said most other operators, including Verizon Communications Inc., follow PacBell's lead on pay-phone pricing.

The phone company said the increase was necessary to offset lower pay-phone call volumes and revenue, which have been shrinking as more people use mobile phones and prepaid phone cards.

"We're trying to make a go of continuing to operate a pay-phone business," PacBell spokesman John Britton said. "We think the price increase will help keep the availability out there for the people who use and depend on them."

Calls to 911, as well as to toll-free phone numbers such as 800, 888 or 877 numbers, will continue to be free to pay-phone users.

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