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AT&T to hang up on pay-phone business
By The Denver Post
12/03/2007 11:33:24 PM MST

Mayor Phyllis Nozicka stands next to the phone booth that is the 'home office' for 'The Late Show with David Letterman,' Feb 9, 1999, in Wahoo, Neb. The small farm town about halfway between Omaha and Lincoln has held that distinction for two years and nine months, longer than any of the 10 other home offices to which Letterman has referred in his 17 years on television. (AP | Dave Weaver)

SAN ANTONIO AT&T Inc., the biggest U.S. phone company, plans to leave the pay-phone business after 129 years as more people use wireless handsets to make calls on the go.

The first pay phone, installed in 1878, had an attendant who took callers' money, AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said.  Inventor William Gray set up the first coin-operated phone in 1889 at a bank in Hartford, Conn.  Both devices were operated by AT&T predecessor companies.

At their peak in 1998, there were 2.6 million pay phones in the U.S., San Antonio-based AT&T said Monday in a statement.  That number fell to 1 million this year, including the 65,000 phones AT&T has in 13 states, the company said.  BellSouth Corp., which AT&T took over in 2006, had already exited the business in the nine states where it operated.

Wireless subscribers have quadrupled in the past decade, and about 80 percent of people in the U.S. now have mobile phones, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group.  AT&T added 2 million mobile subscribers in the third quarter to reach 66 million.