Prior to the popularity of personal cell phones, public telephones ("pay phones" which accept coins) were ubiquitous on sidewalks all over the United States. Today, however, many phone companies which have provided these phones have had them removed or have had their charges increased substantially. You will probably have to enter a store or restaurant to find one. US telephone numbers (as in all of North America) have a fixed format XXX-YYY-ZZZZ. The first three digits (XXX) are the area code. Area codes originally covered very large areas but an explosion in the deployment of telecommunications services has required the introduction of many more codes in order to provide enough numbers. In many larger cities, it is mandatory to use the area code. The second three digits (YYY) are termed the prefix or exchange. Generally, a single telephone office will serve one or more exchanges. The final four digits complete the phone number. Long distance calls usually require an initial "1" while calls placed to locations outside of North America require an international access code (011). Most visitor areas and some restaurants and bars have two books of telephone numbers: the "white book", for an alphabetical listing of telephones; and the "yellow book", a listing of business and service establishments by category, for example, "Taxicabs". Directory information can also be obtained on the Internet or telephone, usually by dialing 411. This is normally an extra cost call, unless dialed from a pay phone.
Unfortunately there are no international standards for cell phones. It should also be noted that the receiver pays for all calls and text messages. Consequently, one you purchased in another part of the world will probably not work in the US. Most mobile providers in the US now support text messaging both within their own networks and frequently among each other's networks, though large delays are sometimes associated with inter-carrier messaging. Third generation, or 3G, mobile technology is slowly being deployed in the US but many carriers are still working on upgrading their first- and second-generation networks. There are a handful of nationwide carriers in the US who operate nationwide GSM networks, but they operate on different frequency bands from the rest of the world for regulatory reasons (the 900/1800MHz bands were already allocated for other uses). Nevertheless, they do have extensive domestic and international "roaming" co-agreements, so international travelers who have GSM "world phones" can likely roam in the US (check with your home provider for further information). Still, international travelers who are planning long trips should be advised that it may be less expensive to buy a local pay-as-you-go or prepaid phone, especially if you're planning to make many calls within the US. All post paid accounts require two year contracts with a few providers offering an option of one year, so the majority of travelers will use prepaid services.
Long-distance telephone calling cards are available at most convenience stores. Most calling cards have specific destinations in mind (domestic calls, calls to particular countries), so make sure you get the right card.
America is a highly technological country, with over 75% of its population having Internet access. Internet cafes, however, are not common, especially outside of major metropolitan areas; however, there is an increasing trend in coffee shops, bookstores, and other establishments, to provide free wireless internet access for laptop computers. The best bet for computer rental is at a "photocopy shop", such as, FedEx Kinko's (+1 800 2KINKOS/+1 800 254 6567) which is a national chain. Most hotels are equipped with Internet connections. Some of these have "business centers" where you can use a computer connected to the internet, fax a message, and use a computer printer and make limited copies. Other hotels assume you will be using your own laptop and they provide in-room internet connections or in the business center. Sometimes access is wireless. Often this service is billed as a separate cost, but increasingly it is not extra and is part of the cost of the room. All public libraries now provide Internet access, free of charge, but you may have to wait in line and their hours of operation are limited. Many libraries limit user access to 30 minutes at a time. Some cities also have free WiFi connectivity, although this movement is still in its early stages.
Adapted from WikiTravel under the Wiki License
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