An article in the Times of India on 8.9.13 titles “As PCOs hang up, distress calls drop” highlights the importance of public calling offices (PCOs) or pay phones as thet are called in some parts of the world. It is said that ever since the number PCOs are in decline, the number of calls being received from distressed children on the government funded Child Helpline has decreased sharply. As many of these children would be orphans, homeless or from marginalized segments of society, the Helpline would have been a lifeline of sorts to report mistreatment or to locate shelter. It is suggested that the solution lies in installing free phones to the child hotline.
In India the Village Public Telephone (VPT) schemes were the first to be launched by the Universal Service Obligation Fund
and have now been discontinued. As private PCOs outpaced the USOF subsidized in numbers and quality of service this was the right thing to do. However, the government does need to ensure the availability of PCOs in both rural and urban areas.
One option could be to install purely government/CSR funded phones which can dial all types of public /welfare related hotlines and emergency services. These phones should also be equipped with assistive technologies to make them disabled friendly.This would serve the public well and is a worthy cause for USOF to espouse and support. The revenue earned from calls could meet some of the installation and maintenance costs.