Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sandy shows value of pay phones

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TORONTO -- The events of superstorm Sandy are raising questions about the importance of pay phones in emergencies, even as two of Canada's largest telecom companies say they will tear out some public telephones unless they are allowed to sharply raise prices.

New Yorkers were forced to turn to their neighbourhood's coin-operated phones last week as floodwaters knocked out power and cellphone reception in areas ravaged by Sandy, the massive storm that swept across the Eastern Seaboard.

But a push from Bell Canada (TSX:BCE) and Bell Aliant Inc. (TSX:BA) could make it harder to find those pay phones in Canada during emergencies.

Earlier this year, both companies made applications to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for rate hikes that could double the price of a pay-phone call.

Under the submission, they are asked for the ability to boost the price of a local call to as much as $1 each, compared to the current price of 50 cents.

Then in September, the two telecom companies added extra pressure to their request by saying without a rate increase, they would be forced to get rid of their least profitable pay phones.

That could mean that up to 25 per cent of their pay phones in Ontario and Quebec would disappear if the CRTC doesn't allow them to raise prices.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2012 B6

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