Coin telephones used to be highly standardized in the United States, but now there are many types, representing numerous competing providers. With the advent of mobile cellular telephones, the old “payphone” is becoming an endangered species. Payphones today are much harder to find than they used to be, a situation which creates particular inconvenience to visitors to the United States. Even in public places like gasoline stations, airports and government offices, it may be quite difficult to find a payphone. On the typical American street corner, it is now next to impossible.
Not all payphones accept coins. Some allow credit or debit card calling only, and some require special telephone cards. Newer payphones in airports, stations and in hotels may combine kiosks that provide Internet access. When payphones do accept coins, the largest is usually the 25 cent piece (the “quarter”). The modern payphone does not always give a clear indication of fees, especially when credit cards are involved.
Because toll-free calls made through payphones are expensive for the service provider, toll-free providers sometimes block calls to them made from payphones. When a user dials a toll-free telephone number in order to use a pre-paid “calling card,” the call is never blocked, but a per-call charge is usually deducted from the pre-paid dollar amount to make up for this expense to the provider. The provider also deducts the minutes used for the call from those allowed on the card. Because of this system, a “low price per minute” calling card may actually be more expensive to use than it appears. A simple card is still a convenient alternative to carrying around a pocketful of coins, however, if a payphone is the only telephone available.
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