As many as 200 communities in Saskatchewan have only one payphone left as people increasingly turn to newer technologies, such as smartphones, to keep in touch.

SaskTel says there are currently only about 1,500 payphones left in the province, down from about 5,000 in 2005.

Of the payphones that remain across Saskatchewan, 600 are located in Regina and Saskatoon.

The number of payphones in the province has declined by 10 to 15 per cent each year, according to SaskTel spokesperson Michelle Englot.

“It’s all related to there being alternate technologies,” she said. “Almost everyone can afford a cellphone at this point, the basic service, and so a lot of people have cellphones and other technologies, as well.”

It’s become increasingly tough for SaskTel to turn a profit from the coin-operated telephones. Englot says payphones are susceptible to vandalism, and they cost around $5,000 each to replace.

“With the declining usage and increased costs on maintenance because it is susceptible to vandalism, it’s definitely declining revenues,” Englot said.

“We continually evaluate our payphone portfolio and look at if the phone has been vandalized or if it is not being used, then we look at potentially moving it.”

Still, Englot says payphones probably won’t go the way of the rotary-dial phone anytime soon. She noted that payphones are still being used relatively often in malls, hospitals and the downtown cores of Regina and Saskatoon.

The chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has said there is still a need for public phones.

“It’s certainly true that the reduction of payphone use is considerable, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that everybody is not using it … because there are people, more vulnerable Canadians, that still see value in it,” Jean-Pierre Blais said in a recent interview.

“We’re talking here about Canadians that are more vulnerable, low-income Canadians, the homeless, maybe perhaps victims of abuse that don’t have the financial means to even have landlines or wireless phones that need to contact the government for social and medical services.”

A recent report by the CRTC said the number of payphones across Canada is expected to be down to 55,000 or so by next year, compared with about 118,000 in 2008. Call volume is forecast to slip to 33.5 million next year from 198 million in 2008.

The CRTC is proposing that companies be obligated to notify affected communities before removing the last payphone.

Englot said SaskTel has no immediate plans to remove more payphones in the province.

With files from The Canadian Press

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