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Formation2014; 10 years ago (2014)
FoundersKarl Anderson, Elijah St. Clair
HeadquartersPortland, Oregon

Futel is a public arts organization in Portland, Oregon dedicated to preserving and maintaining public telephone hardware and offering free phone and basic information services. [1] Futel was founded by Karl Anderson, a former software engineer, and Elijah St. Clair.[2]



Karl Anderson stated that one motivation for the project was to explore the idea of urban furniture. Other reasons were to preserve an important part of hacker history, and to salvage and re-use manufactured items at the end of their lifecycle.[3] The original Futel phones were set up in Portland, Oregon. The organization cleans and repurposes old public payphones which are often salvaged from Craigslist or scrappers. Using interface boxes, they are converted into VoIP phones which are made available publicly, with no cost for phone calls.[4][5] Anderson has said the service runs on "Asterisk and OpenVPN and a lot of scripts."[6]

The payphones operate using publicly-available internet connections.[7] The phones have automated phone trees and users can make a call to local social services, to a weather forecast line, or access local transit information.[8] Volunteers act as telephone operators, offering information about the Futel service, or are available for conversation.[9] Users using Futel's phones may also access voicemail boxes.[1] The system has a "wildcard line" where people can listen to samples of audio left on the main voicemail line along with commentary from Anderson and others.[3]



In February 2021, there were 10 Futel phones in Portland and 3 in other cities.[10] Phones were set up in Detroit and Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Long Beach, Washington.[11][8] The organization has provided free phone service for a Portland-area homeless encampment after receiving funding from the Awesome Foundation.[12][1] In 2019 the organization reported their phones being used to make 12,000 phone calls.[13] Futel also said their usage went up and not down during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic when they outfitted their phone kiosks with handwashing stations and used volunteers to keep the phones clean.[10]

The project is funded is primarily through grants and is staffed with volunteers.[8][13] The project has inspired others such as the PhilTel project in Philadelphia and the RandTel project in Randolph, Vermont.[14][15] Futel publishes a zine called Party Line.[16]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Wentz-Graff, Kristyna (2015-04-05). "Futel's 'pay phone' service; providing phone calls for free". Oregon Live. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  2. ^ Singer, Matthew (2020-02-12). "A Portland Software Engineer Is Bringing the Pay Phone Back, Minus the "Pay" Part". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  3. ^ a b Sharp, Sarah Rose (2019-12-25). "A Project Salvages and Installs No-Cost Payphones to Revive a Fading Technology". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  4. ^ Davidson, Kate (2015-06-17). "Old Hardware, A New Twist: The No-Pay Phone". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  5. ^ Janzer, Connamon (2020-03-20). "Portland Organization Bringing Back Pay Phones, Without the 'Pay'". Building Better Cities. Retrieved 2022-12-20.
  6. ^ Bogan, Daniel (2015-02-17). "Uses This: Karl Anderson". Uses This. Retrieved 2022-12-21.
  7. ^ Adams, Biba (2020-03-04). "A second free payphone is coming to Detroit - Metro Detroit News - Detroit". Detroit Metro Times. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  8. ^ a b c DeVito, Lee (2019-11-19). "Detroit has a new old-school payphone that's free to use - Metro Detroit News - Detroit". Detroit Metro Times. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  9. ^ Alex, Atwell (21 November 2019). "Working payphone pops up in Detroit". Click on Detroit. WDIV News.
  10. ^ a b Peterson, Danny (2021-02-27). "'Still needed': Free phone service sees continued use amid pandemic". KOIN.com. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  11. ^ "Futel: Map". futel.net. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  12. ^ "Futel". The Awesome Foundation. Retrieved 2022-12-20.
  13. ^ a b "A Pay Phone Revival, Without The Pay". Morning Edition. December 27, 2019. NPR.
  14. ^ "Home". philtel. 2022-06-23. Retrieved 2022-12-21.
  15. ^ "RandTel". RandTel. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  16. ^ "Futel: Media". futel.net. 2018-07-21. Retrieved 2022-12-19.