BellSouth

(BLS)

has decided to pull out of the pay phone business, in part because of a sharp decline in pay phone usage.

The Atlanta-based telecom provider said it would start exiting the business immediately. The company expects to complete the move by December 2002. The company said the decision will allow it to focus on its core broadband, Internet and digital network products, as well as domestic wireless data and voice business and operations in Latin America.

The company has about 143,000 pay phones in the southeastern U.S.

Bellsouth also said its evaluations indicate that customers "are opting for the new technology options" the company provides, including wireless telephones and interactive pagers.

Shares of BellSouth recently lost $1.75, or 4.1%, to $41.25 in afternoon trading on the

New York Stock Exchange

.