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Dear Ace: Like, where did all the pay phones go? I need to make a call, but can’t find a phone and don’t want to get a cell.
—Anita Dialtone

Good question, Anita! Even though Ace upgraded to wireless communications for his investigative calling, the dwindling numbers of local public phones have not gone unnoticed by his super-sleuth eye.

   To answer your question, Ace set off in the Acemobile to locate at least one working pay phone here in town. After considerable searching, he finally found a fully operational public phone at Dürty Nelly’s pub on Jefferson Park Avenue. The phone was provided by Davel Communications, a major telecommunications corporation based in Ohio that leases pay phones to businesses across the country. Anticipating that he who giveth is usually he who taketh away, Ace called the Davel Corporation to get to the bottom of our pay phone conundrum.

   After speaking with Dave Askeland, a Davel representative, Ace learned that with the increase of cell phone technology, pay phone usage has decreased in inverse proportion over the past four years. As a phone’s usage goes down, so too does its revenue, so installing them just isn’t worth it. With pay phones ceasing to be lucrative investments for small businesses, the industry has been forced to downsize, dramatically. Askeland said that there has been a 3:1 decrease in local pay phones over the past four years.

   But, just so you know, Charlottesville isn’t the worst city for finding a pay phone. To put our figure in context, Ace mentions the case of Bell South. Last year, Bell South, one of the nation’s biggest providers, completely eliminated its pay phone services, meaning that more than 250,000 pay phones were removed from parking lots and gas stations throughout the South. So make sure your car breaks down only above the Mason-Dixon Line.

   That made Ace wonder: What’s going to happen to all of those remaining booths? One potential industry option is to convert them into WiFi hotspots for wireless Internet access. So, just imagine, Anita: In a few years, you may not be able to call a tow truck company, but you should be able to send them an e-mail!

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