Most of the phones in Miami with ads are there because of a 2001 pilot program in which the city allowed advertising on the pay phones for the first time. But there was no next step, and the city’s phones have for the most part languished ever since. The city collects $9,300 a year total from the company that owns most of the pay phones on city streets, plus another $185 per phone — not exactly the multi-million dollar windfall that billboards have brought.
Sarnoff placed an item on the city agenda a few weeks to do away with all the pay phones on public property, but pulled it after seeing he didn’t have enough votes from fellow commissioners.
“I’m not sure you need’’ pay phones, Sarnoff said. “But if we do they shouldn’t be ugly little kiosks just for advertising. Let’s make Miami a really cool city and do what New York did.”
Aha. New York. Where the lights are brighter and the pay phones are — sexier?
They certainly are this year, especially since New York launched its “Reinvent Payphones” contest in December. The winner: The “NYFI”, a 10-foot tall double-sided touchscreen outdoor phone with large advertising panels on the sides. The booth comes with free wi-fi and other smart phone features.
Other contestants include “The Beacon,” a 12-foot tall voice- and gesture-controlled kiosk that looks like a colorful canoe paddle standing on end. There was also the “NYC IO,” a three-sided tube-like structure that offers real time data.
Michael Kohner is director of operations for First American Telecom, which owns 325 pay phones throughout Miami, most of them on private property or Florida Department of Transportation land. He admits the phones aren’t self-sustaining, and require advertising to keep them around. He said he’s aware of the New York competition, and has a couple of ideas of his own, like combination ATM/pay phone kiosks.
He said his company would be more than willing to take a look at other ways to supplement pay phone revenue, whether it’s working in combination with ATMs or setting up at Internet hot spots.
“Pay phones are a declining business,” said Kohner. “You’ve got find some sort of return. The question is what other revenues can be earned in the utility. I just don’t know.”
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