MIAMI (CBS4) – When you think of payphones, you might think of a vandalized, inoperable relic of a quaint communications era gone by, its wires protruding, abandoned by its owner.
When you think of payphones, you might think of Superman ducking into a phone booth for a quick change of clothes.
Payphones, you might think, are so passe.
Don’t try telling that to Guy Strempack, whose Fort Lauderdale-based company, First American Telecom, is getting into payphones in an increasing way.
First American Telecom has erected 25 state of the art, solar-powered payphone kiosks in the downtown Miami area and is looking to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to install more.
“We might not make our fortune, but we’re going to provide payphones to those that need them for years to come,” Strempack told CBS4 News as he stood beside one of his new, vandal-resistant stainless steel phone kiosks on Flagler Street.
Payphones had largely disappeared from much of the urban landscape after the cell phone became a communications tool Americans carry in their pockets and clip to their ears.
“I haven’t used a payphone in years,” one woman said in Miami Tuesday.
CBS4 News asked a passing police officer when was the last time he used a payphone.
“Never,” the cop replied.
Strempack, the aspiring payphone magnate, is not deterred.
“Have we lost our minds by investing in payphones at this time? I would say no, absolutely not,” Strempack said. He said that his phones in Miami are targeted largely at international tourists visiting the city, who don’t have cell phones or don’t want to pay high, out-of-country cell phone calling charges.
Payphone boosters also point to demand by domestic customers who are priced out of the cell phone market.
“Those economically disadvantaged, who can’t afford cell phone service, are relying on payphones for their calling,” said Bruce Renard, Executive Director of the Florida Public Telecommunications Association, an industry group.
“Payphones are really evolving into more than just a phone,” Renard said. He noted that the new solar-powered phones in Miami include informational maps with LED lighting that help visitors locate points of interest.
The new phones are seemingly on every other corner in the downtown area, but cell phones are so ubiquitous that cell phone users seemed oblivious.
“I haven’t noticed them,” one woman said, clutching her pink cell phone. “Everybody uses cell phones these days.”
Strempack believes payphones will become more broadly appealing as they become more sophisticated.
“We’re looking at internet-capable payphones,” Strempack said. Phones that will allow customers to surf the web, send and receive emails, even download videos. Think an I-Phone on a post, that accepts quarters and credit cards.
“I am excited about the evolvement of the payphone of the future,” Strempack said.