Are pay phones a thing of the past?

INDIANAPOLIS - The utility and the omnipresence of the pay phone have been documented in cinema over and over again, but despite the cultural currency the pay phone carries, it is fast disappearing thanks to the cellphone. 

In the year 2000 there were 2.2 million pay phones in the country. In 2013, there were about 400,000. 

The decline in pay phones is striking at Indianapolis International Airport, where the number of pay phones has dropped from more than 140 to just 13.

"The most popular ones seem to be down in the baggage claim area," said airport spokesman Carlo Bertolini. "People tend to have extra time to kill waiting for luggage, and they realize they need to make a call that requires a pay phone."

Indianapolis resident Kathy Cornn said she never uses a pay phone.

"I don't even know how much it costs anymore. I don't use a pay phone at all. I don't even think about a pay phone," she said. "I thought they were all gone; really I did." 

Still, pay phones have their niches carved out.

The pay phone is a staple at a church camp in Fortville.

"You might have children here that don't have a wireless device," said Alan Matsumoto, with CenturyLink, which owns 80 pay phones across Indiana. "They would have the ability to call their parents or whoever they need to reach."

Pay phones are still prominent and in demand in jail, where cellphones are not allowed.

Last year, inmates at the Marion County Jail spent 11 million minutes talking on 412 phones.

"It allows the inmates to talk to family and friends, but we also monitor the phone calls because we don't want inappropriate enterprises going on inside the jail," said Lt. Colonel Louis Dezelan.

On the outside, there are some people who cling to pay phone tradition. 

Terress Palmore, who has had some financial setbacks, says he might use a pay phone three times a day.

"It's a lot cheaper than paying for a contract cellphone with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, when it can run up to hundreds of dollars a month," Palmore said.

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