Hanging up on payphones
How Telkom killed the payphone
In the 1990s, community phone booths and public payphones helped poor communities to communicate without owning handsets
Payphones, already few and far between, will soon become the first casualty of the shrinking voice-calls market, says Telkom’s consumer business head, Attila Vitai. But the parastatal will be glad to see the back of them as it repositions itself as a provider of data-based communication services. Telkom’s cost-reduction initiatives include the elimination of outdated services such as payphones, which have become far more onerous to maintain than they are worth. "We were employing people to go out into the Karoo to empty a coin box ... It would cost us something like R2,000 to send someone out to collect the money, and there was like 10c in the coin box — it really is uneconomical," says Vitai. Less than two decades ago, before cellphones found their way into almost every consumer’s pocket, Telkom had nearly 200,000 payphones in SA. Other than the Post Office’s endeavours to kill off its own business, these phone booths, usually on the side of the road in the case of Telkom, and Voda...