A PUBLIC INTEREST PAYPHONE was installed in Biddeford last week, with the goal of improving communication for those those who do not have cell phones.

A PUBLIC INTEREST PAYPHONE was installed in Biddeford last week, with the goal of improving communication for those those who do not have cell phones.

BIDDEFORD

Talk about a blast from the past: a pay phone was installed in downtown Biddeford last week.

But the device, located at the corner of Jefferson and Center Streets, is no ordinary pay phone. It’s a public interest pay phone, or PIP, designed to provide phone access to those who otherwise don’t have it.

Installation of the phone can be accredited in part to Jeff Cabral, director of Biddeford’s McArthur Public Library, who said Friday he recognized the need for additional telephone service in the city when he started seeing an increase in patrons requesting to use the library’s telephone.

He said the library has typically allowed children and adults to make calls in cases of emergency, but lately more people seem to need to make calls for personal purposes, such as scheduling job interviews or requesting rides home.

“We were seeing the need here, a lot of people coming in here using our phones,” Cabral said. “We’re not really set up to provide a public phone service. We could’ve put the PIP in our building or on our property, but that defeats the purpose.”

Cabral said it’s a reality that people need to make calls, but many aren’t able to do so on their own. Part of the problem, he said, is the fact that most of the city’s pay phones — as with pay phones globally — have been removed due to the advent of cell phones.

“We also come to the perception that everyone has cell phones, and it’s not really accurate,” Cabral said. “We’ve just seen a growing use of our phones and growing request for our phones for all sorts of needs.”

Cabral said last year he began exploring options for pay phones to help ease the burden. Upon finding out about the PIP program, Cabral began coordinating with Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, to install one downtown.

“I was curious about whether it was possible to get a pay phone sponsored, and I started looking into options,” he said. “(The PIP program) is a really good program designed for public safety and having some sort of pay phone in case of emergency in downtown locations.”

The Maine PIP program was established in 2006, with the goal of furthering public health, safety and welfare. Installation and calls are paid for by telephone ratepayers through Maine’s Universal Service Fund, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Communities vying for PIPs are selected based on a combination of factors, including the health and safety considerations of the area, the cost of service to the area and the availability of wireless and residential telephone service in the area.

There are about 40 PIPs located throughout the state, including at the Nasson Community Center in Springvale. Only outgoing calls are able to be made, and users have the ability of dialing 911 in the event of an emergency. Local calls are free, although users can also call collect or use prepaid calling cards or credit cards for long-distance calls.

Cabral said the PUC is not actively installing PIPs across the state, but a device became available for which the city could apply. Grohman said the PUC will grant installation of PIPs to communities that demonstrate the need.

“I guess the bigger picture is that the payphone business is pretty much going away,” Grohman said Monday. “In instances the PUC deems it appropriate for access and safety, they’ll put one of these phones up.”

Grohman said a public hearing on the matter was held earlier this year. No residents opposed it so installation moved forward.

The phone does not yet have a dial tone, Grohman said, but he is currently in contact with the PUC and hopes to get the phone up and running by the end of this week.

Grohman agreed the phone is a worthy addition to the downtown for both emergency and personal purposes.

“I think it’s nice to have it there. It never hurts to know that you have a communication option,” Grohman said. “There’s definitely a public safety element to that and I’m pleased with that and proud of that.”

Journaltribune.com


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