THE future of North Yorkshire's pay phones has been assured by British Telecom, despite a massive downturn in use owing to the popularity of mobile phones.

BT launched a national review of its 138,000 public payphones after the growth of mobiles led to a 37 percent drop in street box use.

But fears that isolated villages and remote locations where mobile reception is poor would be left without a phone box are unfounded, BT has assured customers.

Communications manager Pauline Vincent said: "The payphones in rural hamlets and isolated villages will not move. Nothing in any kind of remote location will go. They will be all protected."

Mrs Vincent said BT had no intention of taking out pay phones serving rural communities where mobile phone reception was difficult to receive.

"We have a universal service obligation that forms part of our licence," she said. "One of those parts is to provide a public telephony service, and under our license we are obliged not to remove a public service. Those isolated and remote locations will stay - they have been protected."

Cities such as York, which currently has several payphones in some locations, could see boxes removed from the streets in the future.

Mrs Vincent said: "We are looking to thin out boxes, say where we have two, four or six payphones, then maybe another couple in the next street. But it does depend on usage - obviously we don't want to create queues."

Mrs Vincent said the trademark red payphones, mostly found in rural areas, were not under threat.

"We have around 16,000 of those traditional boxes around the UK.

"A certain number are actually listed, and we would try wherever we could to replace those with a red box if they were damaged, for example after a road accident.

Updated: 11:44 Thursday, October 31, 2002