This is a wall on Sansom Street in Philadelphia near 16th Street. Do you see the small holes between the two large windows in this photo? Back in 1999 during the height of the first dot-com boom, a company named Popi installed a pay phone here. It was no ordinary pay phone. You could make calls for free but the catch was that you had to listen to a short advertisement before your call was connected. So in essence, the advertisers paid for your call.
I can’t find any information on the internet about this company or one with a similar model. I’m only 90% sure it was even called “Popi.” This post is here for anyone that might be performing a similar search. Please add a comment on anything I’m missing.
I think there were a few issues with this “free pay phone” business plan. First of all, regular pay phones were already becoming unpopular because the use of cell phones was rapidly increasing at that time. Secondly, the only people I ever saw lined up to use this phone were the homeless and those down on their luck, not exactly a big sell to advertisers. Finally, advertising is about reaching as many people as possible. How many people would actually hear the phone ad in one day compared to the airing of even one radio commercial?
The phone was abandoned by 2001 before I even had a chance to try it out and hear what kind of ads were being played and how long they were. By 2007, it had decayed to the point where all that was left are the holes you see today. If I had known it would be so short-lived, I would have taken a picture of it because it epitomizes the turn of the century dot-com bust.