PORTLAND (AP) – Dozens of Maine communities seeking a pay phone for use in emergencies may be in line for state assistance.

Thursday is the deadline for applications to the state Public Utilities Commission.

Under a new law, the state will pay for the installation and maintenance of 50 phones that will be available for local calls.

The Legislature approved the public interest pay phone program in 2005.

A sponsor, Democratic Rep. Herb Adams of Portland, said telecommunication companies have sharply reduced the number of pay phones, pegging the change at only 4,300 in 2004 compared with 8,200 in 1998

“We knew that for a state like Maine, pay phones are not just a relic of small-town Maine, but a necessity of life, part of the landscape,” Adams said. “They’re there for that emergency you hope you never have.”

As of Tuesday, the PUC had received 39 applications, according to Marjorie McLaughlin, director of the commission’s finance division. She said applications have come from around the state – Meddybemps, Vinalhaven and Caratunk, as well as Rumford, Bangor and Freeport.

About $50,000 has been allocated from the state’s Universal Service Fund for the first year of the program and McLaughline said the PUC estimates that will cover the cost of installing 50 phones.

Larry Sharp, president of the Cliff Island Association, said a public pay phone would be a benefit to residents and visitors alike, addressing public safety concerns.

McLaughlin said the PUC will hire a company to install and maintain the phones.

Misuse of a free calling system is not expected to be a problem.

“No one really wants to take their phone out and walk down the street and use the phone on the corner,” McLaughlin said.


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