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Philly software engineer working to reinvent public phones

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Back in the day, pay phones seemed to be everywhere – even superheroes needed them. 

You could even use one to call for help, but these days they're essentially a relic of the past.

Although the majority of public pay phones have disappeared, a Philadelphia software engineer has an idea to bring them back.  

"This one is from 1997," Mike Dank said. "I found it at a flea market 15 years ago."

Dank and a few of his friends who work in the tech world recently launched Philtel, a small nonprofit combining their knack for technology and passion for community to create a free public phone project.

"Deep down it's kind of that hacker ethic of exploring technologies," Dank said. "And also I thought there's a real benefit here for the community that can be done by providing free calls."

Unlike the original pay phone, Dank's configured this one to make calls over the internet and said it could cost as low as $4 a month to operate.

Now the big questions: Does it work?

And will people use a free public phone?

"I would never use a pay phone," Amalia Karabas said. "I would more so stop someone on the street."

"I would use it to save me a bill," Jame Ears said. 

Philtel's first phone goes online Dec. 17 at Iffy Books in Spring Garden, and Dank hopes to eventually expand to other places in the city.

"There's a lot of payphone use in Philly still," Dank said. "People out there could be homeless, not have access to a phone, and not keep up with their phone bill. At the end of the day, payphones are still getting a lot of use and we want to make them even more available and ubiquitous to people."

Will there be a call for more public phones? Only time will tell.

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