In looking at lots of PSTN interconnection providers recently it strikes me that it might be reasonable to provide VoIP "courtesy phones" in public locations for people who need to get in touch with far-away family. My first thought was that college students would appreciate this. Most of them already have mobile phones though, and I expect those who don't are in a fairly good position to figure out a reasonable way to make calls.
OTOH, we (along with most every other community) have a population of people who do not have mobile phones, do not have home phones, and often do not have the resources to pursue efficient calling strategies (VoIP, calling cards, ...). Yet I suspect that they would appreciate being able to get in touch with their familiies, friends and even conduct some personal business over the phone.
Over the years I've read several stories about "voicemail for the homeless." Searching through Google I see that they're typically sponsored by big companies (Cisco, Bell, ...). It makes a lot of sense to have a carrier involved with providing voicemail but what about going beyond that?
I'm thinking that an outgoing PSTN service could easily be shared among some phones located in places that already serve homeless clients. Just plopping down some phones with limited dialplans might be sufficient but perhaps tracking users would be required in order to reduce/identify abuse?
If users are tracked (authenticated), it would be easy to provide voicemail services. Clients could even arrange "meet me" incoming service, receiving calls in realtime if they are registered with a device.
This could also be a good way to provide information to the community. Fast notification to specific populations about resources of interest (jobs, food, education, entertainment, ....) might be beneficial. (I have had almost no experience working with homeless people so I don't know what's needed.)
So what would be required? I'm just getting started with using Asterisk but I don't see any reason that it wouldn't be a great foundation for such a system. There are plenty of PSTN interconnection services. Those could be chosen and changed as required. Hardware at each client location could be something along the lines of a Sipura SPA-1000.
The real trick would be getting sufficient IP service to client locations. This is becoming a lot easier but it's certainly an issue. At first, services could be offered at locations already served by broadband (like libraries) with very little investment. With success (and as broadband prices drop) it could be expanded to more locations. Perhaps a community-run wireless network could be used?
Anyway...I mostly wanted to talk through this idea but I welcome comments. I'm especially interested in knowing if anyone has already deployed such a service with Asterisk.