from the Why?-Fie! dept.
The NYT reports that city officials say that beginning in 2015 thousands of payphones across New York City will be converted into Wi-Fi hot spots, providing free Internet access, free domestic calls using cellphones or a built-in keypad, a charging station for mobile devices and access to city services and directions. “It’s going to help us close the digital divide,” says Maya Wiley, counsel to the mayor, noting that low-income people, particularly blacks and Latinos, rely disproportionately on cellphone browsing to get online (PDF) and data charges can add up. The network will be 100 times as fast as average municipal Wi-Fi systems, so a two-hour movie can be downloaded in about 30 seconds. The kiosks’ Wi-Fi range will extend 150 feet in any direction and up to 250 devices will be able to use the network at each kiosk without diminishing service. The city hopes to install about 10,000 kiosks, each about 9.5 feet high and less than a foot wide. The first 500 CityBridge sites will be available by late 2015 to early 2016, with the construction expected to go on for six years. The contract would last for 15 years.
A successful pilot project has been in operation since 2012 but some elected officials have expressed reservations about the city’s decision to entrust the final product to CityBridge, a consortium made up of companies including Qualcomm, Comark, Control Group and Titan calling it a monopolistic arrangement. “Instead of trying to rush the process, the administration should seek a new authorizing resolution from the City Council that contemplates multiple companies,” says Letitia James, the city’s public advocate. For her part, Wiley says that she is prepared for lawsuits against the city. “In my legal opinion,” says Wiley, “this is the coolest thing ever.”
New York City plans to replace sidewalk pay phones with Wi-Fi kiosks that include built-in tablets and phone chargers:
In New York City, the future is calling. New York City is saying goodbye to sidewalk pay phones, and hello to free Wi-Fi kiosks. Plans call for installing 7,500 of them. "This is going to be the fastest and largest free municipal network in the world," said Colin O'Donnell, the chief technology officer for CityBridge, which is partnering with the city to replace the old pay phones with high speed internet. They're called Links: slabs that look like fancy mall directories, but are actually hubs for Wi-Fi that can reach as far as 400 feet, about a block and a half. They'll include built-in tablet computers, and phone chargers. You can use them to call anywhere in the U.S. for free.
The first is already installed on a corner in the city's East Village, though it hasn't been switched on yet. Sitting at a Starbucks a few feet away, grad student Aliyah Guttmann said she's a fan. "It's interesting," she said. "I mean it's going to be more useful than a pay phone now." But she's not sure how much she'll use it. "I'm not going to be sitting outside with my computer on the Wi-Fi connecting to that and working there," she said.
To pay for the new system, the kiosks will have ads, big ones, right there on the sidewalk. O'Donnell says those ads will raise enough to cover the free stuff, with money left over for the company and the city. City officials say all the free Wi-Fi fits with their mission to give more poor people access to the internet.
New York City's high-speed WiFi kiosks have been around for a while, but just how many people are using them? Quite a few, in fact. The LinkNYC team has revealed that there were over 5 million registered WiFi users as of September 2018, with over a billion sessions spread across the 1,700-plus units in the city. People make over 500,000 calls every month, too, although it's not clear how many of those were ice cream truck pranksters. You can safely presume that there's plenty of demand.
As VentureBeat reported, though, these kiosks haven't been without their share of concerns. They're ad-subsidized, but they've barely earned enough to meet the CityBridge consortium's minimum guarantee. The group also removed the kiosks' web browsers after complains of people surfing porn sites or hogging the machines. There's also the concerns about privacy given the presences of cameras and sensors on every kiosk, although Intersection (a part of CityBridge) has stressed that it doesn't collect sensitive info like exact locations or browser history.