A public pay phone in Chicago.
A public pay phone in Chicago. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: AT&T is hanging up its pay phone business. Hard to believe perhaps, but the company better known these days for providing wireless service to Apple's iPhone, still operates some 65,000 pay phones. AT&T says its selling out before they become unprofitable.

Marketplace's Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio.


JANET BABIN: AT&T is following an industry-wide trend. Ten years ago there were more than 2 million pay phones in the U.S., but by last year, the FCC says that number dropped to just over a million. Telecom consultant Gary Arlen says the wireless age has made the old pay phone nearly obsolete.

GARY ARLEN: They're just not being used. They're a pain to maintain, and with something like 60 to 70 percent of people having mobile phones, you just don't need a pay phone.

And 95 percent of U.S. households have mobile or land line service in their homes or apartments. But even the most dedicated cell phone user can end up with a dead battery. Then what?

Hope you can find a working pay phone. Verizon still operates them in the Northeast, but most pay phones are owned by small independent companies, some with questionable service records.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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