In 1878, one of AT&T’s ancestors introduced the first pay phone—an ordinary phone with an attendant nearby to take callers’ cash. Now the company is discontinuing its pay-phone operations, it announced today, 129 years later. With roughly 80% of Americans owning cellphones, pay phones had shrunk to “a very small part of our overall business,” a spokesman said.
Independent operators will take over AT&T’s 65,000 phones. Overall, the US now has 1 million pay phones, down from 2.6 million in 1998. Bell South had already gotten out of the business when AT&T bought it in 2006. Verizon, the country’s second-largest wireless carrier, still operates pay phones.