Phoning home to cost more |

Phoning home to cost more

Come September, pay phone customers will need some more quarters.

SBC Communications Inc. plans a 43 percent increase, from 35 cents to 50 cents, for local calls in the company’s 13-state service region. The move, announced Friday, includes subsidiaries Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell.

The company cited increased operating expenses such as labor and maintenance. At the same time, usage has dropped significantly as callers turn to cellular phones, prepaid phone cards and calling cards.

Jim Sanders of Sacramento couldn’t remember the last time he used coins in a pay phone, he said after hanging up one of PacBell’s phones at the Campground by the Lake.

Sanders, who was vacationing this week in South Lake Tahoe, used his Sprint calling card to make his call.

“Then, I have this,” he said, pulling his cell phone off his belt.

Pacific Bell shares the market in Tahoe with other companies ranging from Golden Tel Communications to Verizon. Industry experts predict others will rush to raise rates.

California has hundreds of pay-phone operators, but PacBell is the state’s largest with an estimated 110,000 phones.

Company officials refused to disclose how many pay phones it serves in the Lake Tahoe area. The utility company has reduced the number of units over the years, SBC spokesman John Britton said Monday, but he would not say by how much.

“The pay phone business is not nearly as profitable as it once was,” Britton said. “We have to cover costs.”

The rate increase is not subject to regulatory approval, since pay phones are considered a competitive service under federal telecommunications law.

Critics say those on a fixed income will get hit the hardest, but the increase affects most everyone at one time or another.

“We all get into a situation where we need a pay phone,” The Utility Reform Network spokeswoman Regina Costa said. “The ordinary person will be hurt by this too.”

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