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Bloomberg contest sees a role for pay phones

People walk by empty public pay phone booths

People walk by empty public pay phone booths in New York. (April 09, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Pay phones may be going the way of the eight-track tape and are more useful for superheroes who need a quick place to change, but the mayor says there's still a place for them in the 21st century.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications launched the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge Wednesday, asking urban designers, policy experts and engineers to update the phones' look and functionality.

Although the number of public pay phones had decreased 24,000 during the past 20 years, thanks to cellphones, the mayor said they are critical during emergencies, such as superstorm Sandy, when many New Yorkers' personal phones couldn't get service.

"We're challenging our dynamic and ever-growing tech community to 'Re-Own the Phone' and provide their ideas on what the future of pay phones could entail," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The initiative aims to update the city's pay phone kiosks with up-to-date technology and modern designs.

Interested applicants have until Jan. 23 to apply for the contest at A winner will be announced Feb. 18.

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