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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 13:15 GMT
Time up for BT phone boxes
Mobile phone user
Have mobiles spelled the end of the traditional phone box?
BT has been given the go-ahead to start removing under-used telephone boxes from thousands of locations.

What we are going to do is make sure BT provides the services that it has to provide in areas of high social need, in rural areas

David Edmonds, Director General, Oftel
But telecom regulator Oftel has said it must not take boxes away from deprived and rural areas.

The telecoms giant will also have to keep phone boxes in busy areas.

Britain has 150,000 call boxes, more per head of population than many other European countries.

But while BT still faces the significant cost of maintaining the phone boxes, the popularity of mobiles has led to a huge fall in their usage.

'Social need'

"BT is only going to be allowed to take away call boxes where there are more than one box on the same site.

First UK telephone kiosk installed 1926
Only available in London initially
First red telephone box launched 1935
New designs launched 1984 when General Post Office is privatised
British Telecom increases number of kiosks to 150,000
"It means they can use their resources more effectively," David Edmonds, director general of Oftel, told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There are now 150,000 call boxes - twice the number we had when BT was privatised.

"We have also got 95% of call boxes working, up from about 75% a few years back.

"What we are going to do is make sure BT provides the services that it has to provide in areas of high social need, in rural areas.

"We are not cutting back on that one little bit."

Nuisance calls

Numbers of kiosks would not be cut at busy areas such as railway stations, he said, adding: "Where they are being used there is a big incentive for BT to keep them because that is where they make money."

Mr Edmonds said the requirement to provide telephone boxes in areas of need will also apply to Kingston Communications in the Hull area.

Oftel said it will continue to work with the telecoms industry on the problem of payphones which have been targeted by nuisance callers.

Sex card crackdown

It also wants to combat the problem of offensive cards advertising services in call boxes.

It is seeking views on a proposals from operators to ban phone users from advertising residential numbers for commercial purposes.

This will allow phone companies to bar numbers which are advertised on cards in and around call boxes.

Earlier this year, a new law cracking down on the distribution of prostitute advertising cards came into force.

Anyone convicted of putting such cards in telephone boxes or other public places will face a maximum six-month jail term or a 5,000 fine.

See also:

08 Nov 01 | Business
BT unveils massive loss
08 Nov 01 | Business
BT predicts pension deficit
16 Oct 01 | Business
BT axes AT&T joint venture
16 Oct 01 | Business
Analysis: BT's lonely future
26 Jun 01 | Business
BT mulls higher high speed prices
02 Jul 01 | Business
BT 'to ditch Concert'
22 Sep 00 | Business
Oftel hits back as criticism mounts
27 Jun 01 | Business
Oftel orders BT to cut prices
13 Jun 01 | Business
BT hires demerger specialist
18 Jun 01 | Business
BT wraps up share sale
10 May 01 | Business
BT attacks debt mountain
12 Oct 01 | Business
BT chief 'to quit early'
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