Pay phones disappearing along Catskill corridor

By Jay Braman Jr.
They were once an important fixtures along the local landscape and beyond. Convenient for any communication, they were also the go-to device in roadway emergencies, to report fires or a crime. But now, public pay phones have not only taken a back seat to today’s cell phones, but they have been kicked to the curb altogether by Verizon, the company that once had dozens of them along the Route 28 Corridor at gas stations, delis and other gathering spots.
Last week Verizon technicians began uprooting the last of the pay phones in the area, and at least one business owner is piping mad about it.
Chuck Perez owns and operates the Big Indian Service Center in the hamlet of the same name.
Last week Verizon technicians removed the pay phone from out in front of Chuck’s business, a phone used frequently in this non-cellular area. Verizon plans to remove the other eight phones in the Town of Shandaken by September 18. The company hopes to eliminate 90 percent of all pay phones in Ulster County by September 25.
Perez said this week that Verizon attempted to remove the phones back in 2002 but back peddled on the plan due to public outcry.
Perez is not taking this latest attack lying down. He believes that the agreement reached with Verizon in 2002 to keep the payphone there still holds. He is in contact with town, county and state officials, all of whom realize that there is still no reliable cellular coverage in the area. Perez hopes that Verizon understands that as well, he suspects they do.
“They were going to rip the payphone out of Morra’s Market last week, but they didn’t,” he said.
Since there is no reliable cell phone coverage in the area, and none planned for the immediate future, it is possible Verizon should install what the Public Service Commission calls a “Public Interest Payphone (PIP).”
According to the commission such a payphone must meet the following criteria:
1) It must fulfill a public policy objective in health, safety, or public welfare,
(2) It cannot be provided to a location with an existing contract for the provision of a payphone.
(3) The payphone would not otherwise exist as a result of the operation of the competitive marketplace.
The PIP process is triggered by requests from either local government entities or consumer organizations for one or more additional payphones at specific locations that conform to the PIP definition. Local government entities or consumer organizations that believe there is a need for a payphone that meets the definition of PIP, and wish to submit a request for PIP consideration, should apply to the Public Service Commission. The request should explain how the request meets the FCC definition of a PIP and provide the location of the proposed PIP and the general location of the next nearest payphone.