City Commission Votes In New Restrictions For Pay Phones
By Candi Calkins
Miami commissioners, citing concerns about a proliferation of pay phones they say serve as magnets for criminal activity in some neighborhoods, agreed 4-1 last week to new restrictions.
Commissioners voted to cancel all pay phone permits as of July 1. Every telephone company from BellSouth, which operates hundreds of pay phones in the city, to smaller companies operating a handful of phones, must reapply under new guidelines that take effect Oct. 1.
City officials said 27 telephone companies supply more than 1,200 pay phones in the city.
Commissioners agreed to a controversial new restriction, increasing the distance requirement between pay phones to 500 feet after City Manager Carlos Gimenez said existing pay phones will not be affected.
"This just stops the proliferation of more phones on the public right of way," Mr. Gimenez said.
City officials said the ordinance institutes uniform procedures for all pay phones in the city. In the future, suppliers must pay $200 for each phone installed.
"Right now there’s not a level playing field," said Elaine Buza, city telecommunications coordinator. "We want everyone on the same page of music."
John Jackson, city director of public works, said the ordinance will make it easier for the city to enforce permit requirements. Officials said decals will be installed on approved telephones, allowing inspectors to easily spot illegal pay phones.
Angela Green, spokesperson for the Florida Public Telecommunications Association, an entity representing small to medium-sized companies, hailed the decision to equalize pay-phone permitting, saying that in the past BellSouth, unlike smaller companies, was not required to pay application fees.
However, Ms. Green criticized the decision not to waive or reduce the $200 permit fee for smaller firms that have already paid installation fees.
Ms. Green also criticized the new minimum distance between pay phones. The city manager introduced the 500-foot rule only recently.
BellSouth officials criticized the ordinance, opposing a requirement that for every 10 pay phones installed in high revenue-generating locations companies must maintain one in a low revenue site.
City officials defended the decision, saying the rule guarantees the availability of pay phones at city-owned facilities. Officials said pay phones may be needed in emergencies.
"We need to protect our citizens," Commissioner Willy Gort said.
The telecommunications ordinance floundered, failing twice before Commissioner Johnny Winton agreed not to oppose the 500-foot rule. He said distance requirements should have been debated by the industry and staff ahead of time.
Mr. Gimenez said the ordinance timing was crucial to establish city revenues.
Tom s Regalado alone opposed the measure. He said the last-minute decision to increase distance requirements sends a negative message to companies considering doing business with the city.