A group of about 20 tech-savvy engineers and programmers gathered at a Philadelphia bookstore Saturday afternoon to celebrate the installation of an old-fashioned public pay phone.
Project organizers hope the phone, which is free to use for calls in North America, is the first in the city and will help restore the public communications infrastructure that has been eroded by the cellphones carried by most Americans.
But there’s more to PhilTel, a project launched this year by Mike Dunk, a 31-year-old software engineer who lives in Springfield, Delaware County, and Naveen Albert, 21, a senior computer engineering major at the University of Pennsylvania.
” READ MORE. The return of pay phones in Philly. A hacker wants to make it happen.
For PhilTel supporters interviewed at the installation, the effort to restore public phones represents resistance to society’s reckless adoption of technology, which they believe can be turned into a tool of oppression, economic growth for growth’s sake, despite environmental impacts and planned to obsolescence. which forces many consumers to buy new cell phones every few years.
“There’s a lot of stuff being sold and pushed to us that we don’t need,” says Michael Somcuti, a computer network engineer who lives in Philadelphia.
Somkuti, 25, is a regular customer of Iffy Books, located at 319 N. 11th St. on the third floor of the mixed-use building at and where the phone was placed in the hallway just outside the store. Iffy Books opened in July 2021 and specializes in books and events about hacking, gardening and generally “enabling people to be less dependent on big tech companies,” according to its website.
Steve McLaughlin, owner of Iffy Books, where he runs workshops on things like bleed control basics, programming and circuit building, described the new phone as a “total resource experience.”
PhilTel’s inspiration came from a project in Portland, Oregon, where an engineer named Carl Anderson installed the first Futel phone in 2014, according to the Oregonian newspaper. Futel now has eight phones in that city, and one in every four cities, including one as far away as Detroit, according to Futel’s website.
Dunk said in an interview that PhilTel’s first phone is an opportunity to demonstrate that PhilTel can successfully install the phone and operate the equipment that connects the phone to the Internet.
Media coverage, including a Dec. 3 story in The Inquirer, has led to some suggestions about where the next phone might end up. Possible locations include a typewriter repair shop in South Philly, a library in Kensington and a house at a bus stop in West Philly, Dunk said.
PhilTel also received cash donations of a little over $100 and pledges of equipment donations, he said. Assuming a good deal on an old pay phone, the initial cost of installing a PhilTel phone retrofitted to connect to the Internet is at least $300, Dank said.
Dunk bought the phone featured in Iffy Books 15 years ago for $20 at the Leesport Farmers Market, north of Reading. It came from a high school in Mechanicsburg, Pa., he said.
It was not lost on the engineers and programmers at Iffy Books that the retrograde device they were marking was based on computer networks, some of which were wary of their work.
But Mike Cramer said he found PhilTel fascinating because Dunk and Albert were taking existing technological building blocks and combining them to create something new that reminded him of the Internet culture of the 1980s and 1990s when he was growing up. and the Internet had a much stronger countercultural bent.
“It’s like Legos, but more complicated,” said Cramer, who is 49 and works in Internet security.
Albert, Dank’s co-founder, says he doesn’t own a cell phone and depends on pay phones when he’s not at home and has access to his traditional landline, which has better voice quality and can last for decades without replacement. said:
“Public communication infrastructure must be available,” he said. “We want to make it more accessible again.”