Ringing the changes

It took approximately 100 years for the telephone to gain almost full market adoption in the US. In today’s world, where technological diffusion happens much more rapidly, the mobile phone took about 15 years to achieve the same. With faster technological adoption comes quicker economic obsolescence of any real estate that was based on the previous technology. What better example of this than the quintessential British red phone box? Still a feature of most high streets, the usage of phone booths has fallen to about 5% of the figure 15 years ago, and the phone revenue now rarely covers the maintenance cost. Consequently, BT has launched an ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme, allowing communities to take ownership of their local phone box for £1.  Already, new uses have been found for these spaces, including defibrillator stations, Wi-Fi hotspots, terrariums, art galleries, book exchanges and (unbelievably small!) nightclubs. This feels like a great opportunity. BT remains on the hook for the electricity supply, and the buyer (local authority, parish or charity) inherits an iconic structure often in prominent positioning. Based on stated figures, annual maintenance costs per booth average c. £150, (presumably much less without the phone equipment), which feels like a very achievable hurdle of less than £0.50 per day. Here’s a challenge to local authority readers of this blog to find a use that can generate more than 50p.