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Britons Can't Do Without Their Red Phone Boxes
April 27, 2010

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Many Britons are seeing red about British Telecom's decision to destroy the red telephone-box structures that dot the landscape all over the country.

The sentiment seems to be one of nostalgia more than practicality, since the U.K. boasts one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership in the world. For many people, utility is not the point of the exercise. They just don't want to see the red boxes pulled down.

Even though the telephone boxes seems like they've been around forever, they have been parts of communities only since the late 1930s. Painted the same color as post boxes, the telephone boxes have provided many an opportunity for generations of people to make a quick phone call while on the go.

An exhaustive count of the countryside in 2002 revealed the existence of about 17,000 red telephone boxes all around Britain. That's a lot of real estate to maintain at 800 pounds (British money) a year, which is what it costs British Telecom to maintain each phone box. More than half no longer pay for themselves, and a recent study found that a full 10 percent of phone boxes were used no more than once a month.

In recent years, people have warmed to British Telecom's "Adopt a Kiosk" program, which allows local government organizations to buy their phone box for one pound, with the understanding that the phone inside will no longer work.

That suits many people just fine, since it's the box – not the telephone inside – that evokes nostalgia. Many boxes have been transformed to suit other purposes, including gardens, bulletin boards, and even a library. One phone box in Somerset contains a mannequin created by the primary school nearby.

The big picture for nostalgic Britons and photo opportunity-seeking tourists is that the phone boxes will remain, even if they no longer serve their primary function.

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