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BT To Axe Half Of Public Telephone Boxes

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Will people care? BT is to remove 20,000 phone boxes by 2022 as usage plummets

British streets are set to change in the next five years after BT confirmed plans to remove 20,000 phone boxes by 2022.

Currently there are just 40,000 remaining telephone boxes in the UK, but BT has said that over the next five years it will begin removing half of the most under-utilised devices.

The decision comes as telephone boxes become an increasing financial burden on BT, as revenue from telephone boxes has dwindled dramatically over the past three decades, and the costs associated with maintenance and vandalism repairs has spiralled.

bt-k6-red-phone-box-2

Obsolete Machine?

Indeed, since 2008 BT has given local communities in the UK the chance to buy their decommissioned local phone box, if it is not being used to make phone calls.

Communities can purchase their local kiosk for just £1 under the Adopt a Kiosk scheme. So far 4,300 kiosk have been adopted. Some decommissioned phone boxes have been fitted with defibrillation machines.

Others have been turned into art galleries, mini libraries, exhibitions or even information centres.

It should be remembered that telephone boxes (the K1 model) first appeared on British streets back in 1921, and they allowed ordinary citizens (in exchange for some coins) to communicate whilst out and about.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the now famous K6 red telephone box in 1936, and those famous red boxes are still found in many locations popular with tourists.

Telephone boxes reached their height in 1992, when there was a staggering 92,000 booths spread across the country.

But the early 1990s heralded the doom for these devices, with the advent of mobile phones.

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Maintenance Burden

And now BT, faced with soaring maintenance costs and plummeting usage, said it will scrap half of the UK’s remaining public telephone boxes.

It seems that although 33,000 calls a day are still made from phone boxes, a third of phone kiosks are only used once a month. Telephone calls from public telephone boxes has also been falling by 20 percent a year.

But many are never used at all.

And the ones that do see regular use, the money BT earns from these often does not cover their maintenance costs. Matters are not helped by frequent acts of vandalism, which includes cleaning or the replacement of broken equipment or glass panels. Indeed, BT’s phone box maintenance cost has now risen to £6m a year.

BT said it would only remove phone boxes in line with Ofcom rules, and if there is no other payphone within 400 metres, the local authority would be notified.

Another point to note is that the phone box would only be removed if there were no objections.

“BT is committed to providing a public payphone service, but with usage declining by over 90 per cent in the last decade, we continue to review and remove payphones which are no longer used,” BT told Silicon in a statement.

“As an alternative to removal, we continue to actively promote the Adopt a Kiosk scheme to all councils whilst being committed to maintaining the payphones that remain. More than 4,000 kiosks have been adopted so far and transformed.”

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