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A Pay Phone Revival, Without The Pay

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So once upon a time, if you were out and about and you need to make a call, you would seek out this thing that we remember - a pay phone.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yes, a thing that we don't really see anymore.

KARL ANDERSON: Everyone needs to communicate. Everyone needs that basic way of reaching out.

KING: That is Karl Anderson. He's the leader of Futel, which is a team of people salvaging old pay phones and turning them into no-pay phones.

ANDERSON: The main part of it is just to give people free phone calls. It's something that people want and people can use.

GREENE: Anderson is based in Portland, Ore., and that is where the majority of Futel's phones are located. He says these phones are getting used.

ANDERSON: I think we had 12,000 calls placed last year. Some people use them for fun. People use it to call people from a new place, you know, or just have a - the experience of using a pay phone. But, you know, the main thing people use it for is to make a call when they don't have a phone.

KING: Like, one of the phones is in a cluster of tiny homes in Portland that offer a place to stay to people in need.

ANDERSON: It's basically just like a overnight shelter. And so we have a phone there, and people have used that to do things like arrange employment out of town and do things that you and I may take for granted because we have cellphones. People use it for essential reasons like that.

GREENE: The phones, which are primarily funded by grants, also prompt the user with a series of other options, like call the mayor or access a collective voicemail with messages like this.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Now everyone talks with a little computer, but we used to use phones.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Goodbye.

GREENE: Remember those sounds? Anderson says that they are already working to expand to other cities, including the city of Detroit, Mich.

ANDERSON: Detroit is what I've been wanting to do for years. I'm really glad to do that, and I'm - we're going to put up more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.