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Internet Payphones: Great, Useless Fun

Boy, when the FC team goes out for a little R&R, like we did last night, we just can’t leave work behind (See David’s Purple Cow experience).

Boy, when the FC team goes out for a little R&R, like we did last night, we just can’t leave work behind (See David’s Purple Cow experience).

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As I walked back to the office from a neighboring pub, I noticed what I thought at first to be a group of thugs mugging a payphone. But then I took a closer look and, lo and behold, they were actually using (at least I think they were) one of TCC Teleplex’s new Internet payphones–half Internet terminal, half payphone-27 of which have cropped up around midtown Manhattan this spring.

Intrigued, I watched these guys for a few moments as I checked the neighboring payphone for any loose quarters before going on my way.

This morning, still captivated about who would actually use a public Internet terminal–and why–at the corner of 41st and 3rd Ave., I rolled up my reportorial sleeves, donned my protective raingear, and burned half a block’s worth of shoe leather to give this baby a test drive. Armed with three quarters, I thought I’d at least go see if I could check my email (because, really, why the hell else would I ever stop on the street to use a public Internet terminal). I should mention too that the unit comes equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities, accessible from up to 300 feet, though I struggle to envision many people hanging out on the street corner fiddling with their laptops, especially with so many Starbucks around. But that’s another story entirely, I suppose.

Here’s the lowdown: Internet speed and ease of use get high marks. I was able to sail to Google, Yahoo, and the New York Times with ease. I even went back to make sure my Yahoo and NYT passwords hadn’t been saved once I left the sites. Great, so I know the thing’s not storing any private information even when I accidentally asked it to.

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However–and this is a big however in my book–the one email account that I really use is through work, which is set up on an internal Outlook server. The only requirement I need to get to my mail’s Web interface is a secure connection. Nope. Sorry. Can’t do that. Worse, the machine left me with a blank screen so I was never really sure if I actually couldn’t get on to the site or if the browser was still churning. Either way, at 25-cents a minute, I was burning through my quarters for nothing.

The other problem, for me at least, is that I’m a real germ-o-phobe. Public payphones, aside from checking for change, are strictly off limits. Here, with the Internet payphone’s all-weather metal keypad, you practically have to molest the thing for any typing to appear. Oh well, at least your mouth doesn’t have to get too close if you’re only using the Internet part.

Bottom line: Lots of novelty, little use. Unless, of course, you need to make a good old-fashioned phone call.

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