Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Public Phones to Perish


When I first visited Buenos Aires, in 1980, telecommunications were rudimentary at best – the single phone company, ENTel, was a Soviet-style state monopoly and trying to get a new line was a nightmare. Of two comparable apartments, one with a phone might sell for double the price of one without. ENTel would charge several hundred dollars simply for changing the billing name, and moving your number from one place to another was literally impossible. For those without a phone, making a long-distance call – especially overseas – involved endless lines at an inconveniently located ENTel office, plus preposterous prices.
That changed in the 1990s, when the foreign companies Telefónica and Telecom divided up Entel’s resources in an opaque privatization that’s still controversial. Nevertheless, it became easier to get a phone line, even though prices were magnitudes higher than in Chile, which underwent a similar process, and public telephones became far more numerous. Decentralized private locutorios (call centers) replaced ENTel offices, and public telephones became far more numerous. Phone cards were more convenient than coins (which often lost their value because of inflation) and tokens.

Then, of course, came the mobile phone revolution, and that’s still leading to change in the cityscape. Locutorios are fewer, but still abundant, and many of them are also Internet centers for those without their own desktop, tablet or smartphone. According to the city daily Clarín, though, public telephones are on the way out, or at least diminishing quickly: from a 2004 peak of 10,000 in the city center, there are now only about 2,000, and many of those are vandalized with graffiti. The idea is to reduce their numbers to one every 150 meters or so, and to retain them in key locations such as hospitals and bus terminals.

Meanwhile, for travelers who are wondering whether their own phones will work in Argentina or elsewhere, my friend Edward Hasbrouck is beginning a series on the topic in his own Practical Nomad blog.

App News: Argentina Travel Adventures is an Android!
Until now, my Argentina Travel Adventures app has only been available for the iPhone, iPad Touch, and iPad, as the upper-right advertisement indicates. A few days ago, though, ATA went live for Android-based phone and tablets. At only US$2.99, it’s a bargain for planning for your trip to Buenos Aires and beyond.

In related news, my Chile Travel Adventures app should be released soon on both iTunes and Android.

Tango by the River
As announced recently, there’s been a postponement of my digital slide lecture on Buenos Aires at Tango by the River in Sacramento, which will now take place Friday, October 26th, at 6 p.m. The date’s getting close, though – just a few days away.
Limited to a maximum of 50 people, the event will also include tango performances; admission costs $10 at the door, or $8 in advance. I have spoken here several times before, and we always sell out, so plan in advance. Signed copies of my Moon Handbooks on Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia will be available at discount prices.

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