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A traveller talks on a payphone at Pearson International Airport in this file photo. (KEVIN FRAYER/CP)
A traveller talks on a payphone at Pearson International Airport in this file photo. (KEVIN FRAYER/CP)

CRTC’s tough call: Do communities still need payphones? Add to ...

It’s a tough call for Canada’s telecommunications regulator – what do you do when a phone company decides to cut the cord on its last payphone in a community?

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission first worried about the effect of vanishing payphones in 2004, when the widespread adoption of cellphones began to take their toll on traditional payphones.

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The regulator was so concerned about what would happen in small communities that it created a series of rules to make sure residents weren’t caught by surprise. More than a decade later, it plans to revisit those rules to see if they still make sense.

“The CRTC will undertake research to assess the need for a revised regulatory framework for payphones, including its policy with respect to the removal of the last pay telephone in a community,” the CRTC said in its three-year plan released Thursday.

Its current policy says instances where the last pay telephone in a community is scheduled for removal, [telephone companies] are to provide in writing a 60-day notification to the location provider and to the local government, post a notice on the pay telephone scheduled for removal for at least 60 days prior to removal, and place a notice in the local newspaper at least 60 days prior to removal.”

Payphone usage is steadily declining: a recent CRTC report shows average revenue per payphone has fallen from more than $1,000 in 2008 to around $700 or so in 2011 for major industry players. More than three-quarters of Canadians own mobile phones, with 27.4 million subscribers at the end of 2011. Nonetheless, the CRTC has received numerous complaints from consumers about recent payphone price increases that bring the price of a call to $1, with critics arguing it would hurt the poor or consumers with hearing or visual disabilities who struggle to find accessible wireless phones.

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