Public Interest Payphones
Finding public pay telephones in Indiana and throughout the nation has become much more difficult in recent years. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of payphones in Indiana declined from approximately 38,000 to fewer than 9,000. Nationally, those numbers dropped from 2 million to approximately 555,000 during the same time period.* Explosive growth of cellular/wireless telephone use and partial federal deregulation of the payphone industry have been the primary reasons.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) recognize the need to keep coin-operated payphone service available for public use in areas where there is a compelling public need. As a result, the state has established the Public Interest Payphone (PIP) Program. A Public Interest Payphone is one that is needed at a specific location in the interest of public health, safety and welfare, but that is not profitable for a payphone service provider to maintain at that location.
This program is designed to:
- Encourage payphone service providers, along with businesses that have public payphones on their premises, not to remove unprofitable phones if they serve an important public need, and
- Encourage the placement or replacement of payphones in areas where they are needed to protect public health, safety or welfare. Examples include:
- Low-income residential neighborhoods where fewer households have telephone service, and
- Remote or isolated areas where landline telephone access to emergency services could be needed (such as public parks, campgrounds and Interstate rest areas).
Formal requests for public interest payphones, as described below, are considered on a case-by-case basis by the IURC Consumer Affairs Division and must meet specific guidelines.
If a consumer wants to submit a request for placement of a new payphone, replacement of a removed payphone or continued availability of an existing public phone, he or she should complete a standardized PIP application form, available on the Internet at http://www.in.gov/iurc/2404.htm. Forms are also available by mail or fax, by contacting the OUCC or IURC.
A PIP application must be filed or sponsored by a governmental agency or entity. The state currently does not have funding to supply public interest payphones. However, when a need is determined, IURC staff will attempt to locate payphone services providers who are willing to provide payphone services to the area.
PIP inquiries and service requests will help the OUCC and IURC better monitor and understand the nature and scope of any unmet demand for public payphone service in Indiana. This will help maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of Indiana’s Public Interest Payphone Program.
If a provider considers removing the only public payphone at a certain location, the company should review the flowchart and guidelines established by the IURC in its April 10, 2002 Order in Cause No. 40785. If the payphone meets certain criteria, the payphone service provider will be required to notify the IURC and also provide information on Indiana’s PIP program to the premises owner and any people known to be interested in retaining public payphone service in that area. The provider should also direct premises owners and affected consumers to the OUCC or IURC for further assistance.
Consumers, business owners and payphone service providers who have questions regarding Indiana’s PIP Program can contact the OUCC or IURC. The agencies can also provide PIP applications, as well as copies of the IURC orders creating the PIP Program and outlining its specific guidelines (Cause No. 40785, with orders issued on September 18, 1998 and April 10, 2002).
Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC)
Consumer Services Staff
115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Indianapolis: (317) 232-2494
Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC)
Consumer Affairs Division
101 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 East
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Indianapolis: (317) 232-2700
* Statistics regarding payphone availability in this fact sheet are from the Federal Communications Commission’s Trends in Telephone Service report, issued in September 2010. Specifically, FCC data show that the number of payphones in Indiana declined from 38,114 to 8,457 between 3-31-01 and 3-31-09. The full report is available on the FCC Website.