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Outdoor Net Phone Debuts in NYC

NEW YORK — If it can make it here, it can make it anywhere — an outdoor public pay telephone offering Internet access, that is.

What is being called the first such phone in the country debuted in New York City on the southwest corner of West 46th Street and Fifth Avenue over the weekend. Indoor Internet-enabled pay phones are in some airports, but this is touted as the first outdoor unit.

For 25 cents per minute, the phone offers local and long-distance calling as well as access to e-mail and the World Wide Web. Access to pornography sites is reportedly blocked, however.

The phone also has a digital camera in it. Users can take pictures of themselves, attach the photos to e-mail and send them to friends and relatives for no extra charge. The service is aimed at tourists. Electronic postcards of famous city sites also are planned.

The phone's owners — lower-Manhattan-based franchisee TCC Teleplex — hope that the Internet-enabled public pay phones revive a business that has been hit hard by cellular telephone use. It is estimated that half of U.S. residents have cell phones.

Wireless phones became a problem for the pay phone industry in 1999 when single-rate plans were introduced.

Besides the per-minute charge, TCC Teleplex plans to draw revenue from so-called attractor loops, or advertising repeatedly displayed on the screens. Other possible revenue streams include a cut of the charge for event tickets ordered on the phones and prepaid cards in convenience and drug stores.

“We see a whole host of opportunities there, and we are looking to develop them with some professional marketers,” said Dennis Novick, president, TCC Teleplex.

The question remains, though: Can the new phone survive in a city where pay telephones are routinely defaced and vandalized? If it does, TCC Teleplex said it will add 100 more units mostly in midtown Manhattan in the next year.

“We own and operate 1,500 pay phones here in the city,” Novick said. “We're not strangers to abuse and vandalism. The units are self-diagnostic. They'll call us up, and we'll go out there and change the screens or the hand sets, or whatever we've got to do.”

He said that 3 percent to 5 percent of public pay phones are inoperative at any given time.

To protect the unit from would-be vandals, the computer has a steel casing and a thick Lexan shield over the screen. The unit features a traditional handset, a black keyboard and a 12-inch computer screen in a bright yellow frame.

There is also a red emergency button that can connect the caller with the city's emergency dispatch center.

The phone accepts nickels, dimes and quarters. It also accepts credit cards for a $3 minimum charge.

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