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Cell Phones in the Subway?

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Cell Phones in the Subway?

Digital Life

Cell Phones in the Subway?

Cell Phones in the Subway?

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Cell-phone companies are vying for a huge untapped market: New York's subway. This might be good news for some, but it could take away a classic phone-call dodge... "sorry, I was on the subway."


You can make a cell phone call almost anywhere in New York City, but not underground. Representatives of the four largest wireless companies are vying to provide service in the city's subway stations. Some New Yorkers hate the idea; others love it. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

Walking down a typical city block, I saw six people talking on cell phones within 45 seconds. Almost every cab driver, ear bud in place, is conversing with relatives or friends throughout the typical 12-hour shift. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that even in the poorest countries in Africa, people who walk miles to carry water by hand and gather sticks for fire are using cell phones to talk to loved ones hundreds of miles away. So the announcement that wireless companies are competing to build a voice and data network for the subway stations is not really surprising. Or is it?

I'm standing in the subway station at 42nd Street and Lexington, and I'm wondering if this is really the optimum place to have a cell phone conversation.

In the train, people do not want to talk, except for singer Dan Rouge(ph), who starts imitating talking on the cell phone.

Mr. DAN ROUGE (Singer): `Hey, how ya doin'? What's goin' on?' All of us doing that? That's crazy. Loud rings?

ADLER: Now I confess when I heard about this cell phone plan, I thought, `Uh-oh, can't hide anymore.' Cell phone off, I walk to work through the park. At this time of the year, you hear crickets more than cars. When someone says, `I couldn't reach you on the cell phone,' I say, `Sorry, I was in the subway.' Ray Cherry(ph), as a doorman on the Upper West Side, shares my point of view.

Mr. RAY CHERRY (Doorman): I'm not a fan of the cell phone. I think it's a horrible invention. If they're looking for me in my house, I'm home. If they're looking for me at the job, I'm at the job. In between there, I don't want to be found.

ADLER: But out on the street, many people think, `Subway cell phones? Great idea.' Karen Kavlovski(ph) is walking with her teen-age daughter. She says subway noise doesn't bother her.

Ms. KAREN KAVLOVSKI (Subway Commuter): I really don't need to have a conversation, just one or two sentences: `How are you doing? Keep in contact.' And that's all it would provide for me. I'd be very satisfied.

ADLER: And it is New York City, so terrorism is on her mind.

Ms. KAVLOVSKI: It would put me a lot at ease, especially since September 11th.

ADLER: But terrorist fears is why Stan Schneer(ph) says, `No way!'

Mr. STAN SCHNEER (Subway Commuter): You can buy a cell phone for 20 bucks and hook it up to plastic explosives, and that's what these guys do. So knowing that, I think it's a terrible idea.

ADLER: Still, Eugene Pinover, an attorney, says people simply want to reach other people.

Mr. EUGENE PINOVER (Attorney): You can say it's safety, but it's really not about that. It's just about bringing communication to people wherever they are whenever they want to talk to other people.

ADLER: As for that wish to be unavailable, one person said, `Choose another profession.' How about radiologist? No cell phones in those offices. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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