When asked where the nearest pay phone on campus was, Andy Posner, senior Spanish major, was clueless. He looked around confused and unsure of where one was.
There was a pay phone 10 feet away from where he was sitting in the first-floor hallway of Sierra Hall. Posner shrugged, saying he had no idea.
After being told there was a pay phone inside the room, Posner, looking embarrassed, smiled and snickered, saying, “Sorry, I actually don’t see pay phones (around campus), in general.”
Pay phones at CSUN are a scarcity nowadays, partly because more people use cell phones.
The pay phone that Posner failed to see was located in Sierra Hall 196, an enclosed room located across from display windows. Inside the empty, silent room is a food vending machine, a copier, a couple of soda machines and one pay phone. Wires protrude from the wall where other pay phones used to be.
Janice Johnson, telecommunications analyst in Information Technology Resources, said that prior to the 1994 Northridge earthquake, CSUN had over 100 pay phones throughout campus. In January 2005 CSUN had 77 pay phones. Now there are 28, Johnson said.
“It’s because of attrition and the coming and going of buildings,” Johnson said, giving a couple of reasons why pay phones are scarce around campus.
Pay phones were AT’T sponsored, she said, adding that ITR had contracts with the company that cost the university $50 a month per phone.
Johnson said that some phones were free (for the university), if enough money was put into them. But some of the pay phones did not generate $50 a month.
“In some cases, we said we will pay $50 a month, because there was no blue light emergency phones,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that a majority of the pay phones were disconnected when AT’T merged with SBC Communication Inc.
“They came with a list of phones that weren’t generating any revenue,” she said.
It was CSUN’s decision when it came to keeping or disconnecting the phones, Johnson said. If CSUN, however, keeps phones that are not generating revenue, then it has to pay to keep them connected.
The merge between SBC and AT’T changed the way CSUN became accountable for pay phone revenue.
“They got tighter (with check-ups), and then they started charging us $75 a phone per month,” she said.
Johnson said CSUN weighed its options, and since there were more blue-light emergency phones and more students have cell phones, it was better to allow some pay phones to get disconnected.
“We said go ahead and yank them,” she said.
Johnson said a telephone technician came and some of the phones became emergency phones.
Johnson said the fee charged by AT’T was a flat fee that gives CSUN a percentage of whatever each pay phone accumulates over the flat fee. The amount is determined by the number of students using quarters, calling cards or credit cards to make calls, Johnson said.
Unlike Posner, who always uses his cell phone, some students use pay phones regularly and think that eliminating them would be a bad idea.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Teresa McLaughan, senior English major. “Sometimes I need to call home and I don’t have the minutes to use my cell phone.”
There are inconveniences that sometimes come with owning a cell phones, she said.
“Batteries do die, and if I have a problem with my phone and it’s unsafe, what’s going to happen?” she said.
Steven Smith, spokesperson for AT’T, said, “It’s the 21st century, and in the telecommunications industry, phones are attached to people now.”
Smith also said people rely heavily on cell phones, and there is generally a low demand for pay phones.
When asked how AT’T determines which pay phones get disconnected, Smith said, “It’s on a case-by-case basis, but usage is part of the equation.”
Other students have different reasons for using pay phones.
“There’s good and bad things about having a cell phone,” said Hector Ramirez, senior psychology and communications major. “You can use it whenever, but people always have access to you too.”
Ramirez, who used to have a cell phone, said he noticed that the pay phones were disappearing. Especially because he now has to walk far to find a pay phone.
“I had to walk all the way from the science building to use the phone,” he said, as he got ready to insert his change into a pay phone at the Oviatt Library.
Ramirez said he thinks that a pay phone’s possible elimination is inconsiderate, especially since cell phones don’t always have coverage-leaving a person stuck if there isn’t a pay phone around.
“Other emergencies (including 9-1-1) are important, he said. Sometimes I have to get a hold of my family or I’m in a tight situation,” he said. “I don’t have a cell phone but getting rid of pay phones isn’t only bad but it forces you to get a cell phone and that’s an extra cost for a college student.”
Johnson said keeping the rest of the phones on campus depends on AT’T, which does a yearly review to determine how profitable each phone is.
She said not all the pay phones have gone-just a majority of them.
“We’ve kept some phones for emergency purposes,” she said.
Ontay Johnson can be reached email@example.com.