As People’s Counsel of

the District of Columbia, I am writing about Brett Anderson’s “Phone Zone” (8/23). The article discusses the plight of Logan Circle residents to remove or prevent the installation of public pay telephones in their community. The Office of the People’s Counsel is an independent District agency that represents public utility consumers and ratepayers before the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia (PSC). As such, this office has been at the forefront in seeking to have protections in place against illegal use and other abuses concerning public pay telephones and to give residents control over the number of pay telephones in their community and the timing of installations.

In the spring of 1991, OPC was advised by Councilmember William P. Lightfoot that an increase in illegal drug activity in residential neighborhoods appeared to be related to the number of public pay telephones in these areas. OPC also received many similar comments and complaints from residents of every ward in the city. Citizens complained that in many neighborhoods there were too many pay telephones for any legitimate purpose, and they blamed the large number of telephones for attracting illegal drug activity and eroding the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

As a result of the citywide problem, in June 1991 OPC responded to the needs of the community by filing a complaint and petition before PSC. During a series of public hearings held by PSC, the community expressed its desire to have greater control over the number and location of public pay telephones. Citizens also asked for faster and simpler procedures for having their complaints heard before the appropriate regulatory authority. In response to OPC’s petition, PSC entered an order in Formal Case No. 829 in October 1991, establishing new procedures for public pay telephones. PSC updated these rules in September 1993 and has formed a working group in which OPC, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and public pay telephone owners explore problems and work toward establishing solutions to enable public pay telephone owners to address generic community concerns about the installation and operations of public pay telephones throughout the city.

From 1992 to 1995, according to PSC, 459 public pay telephones have been removed; 499 public pay telephones were converted to either one-way calling or restricted the beeper usage for retrieval of activated messages; 70 public pay telephones have had the service time reduced; and 67 public pay telephones have been relocated from their original locations. Recently, OPC participated in an informal PSC hearing in which the Metropolitan Police Department took the unusual step of requesting removal of at least 50 public pay telephones in a particular area of the city. This matter is currently pending before PSC.

In light of the recent federal legislation allowing robust competition in the telecommunications field, the laudable objectives of enabling the provision of public pay telephones for those who do not have telephones inside the home and for those who have emergency needs for public telephone access may run into tension as deregulation/competition will open the floodgates to more competitors who wish to provide such service.

People’s Counsel of the

District of Columbia

Dowtown