The Big Apple phoned in its final goodbyes Monday to the last vestige of a bygone era.
City officials alongside the Consortium behind LinkNYC—CityBridge—cut the cord on Manhattan’s final payphone on May 23 as phone booths are replaced in favor of wifi kiosks.
LinkNYC, electronic stands that offer both free wifi and phone calls, are the new talk of the town, leaving old-school payphones behind as an antiquated product of a pre-internet age.
“I am personally not going to mourn the end of the payphone era. For any of you who are under the age of 30, allow me to recount some of the horrors of that time,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said. “There was that moment when you had joy of hearing a dial tone and you reached in your pocket and there were no quarters, and you were out of luck. Or maybe you got on the call, you started the conversation and just when you got to the heart of the matter, your time was up. What about waiting in line behind someone who just talked and talked and talked and seemed to have a limitless supply of quarters. None of it was fun, trust me.”
The last booth was uprooted from Times Square on 7th Avenue and 49th Street. With onlookers gathering for one final glimpse of classic New York, workers literally cut the cord before strapping it to a crane. Ripping it from its concrete roots and lifting it skyward, the booth was placed on the back of a truck. The payphones seemed to make one last act of protest as the handsets shot forward from its hooks and dangled by its cords.
According to elected officials and members of CityBridge, LinkNYC was instrumental in ensuring children had access to wifi throughout the pandemic while maintaining free phone call access. With many believing that access to the internet is now a human right, NYC Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser revealed that the LinkNYC service is undergoing an expansion.
“Within the next month in June, we’re looking to bring forward the first link 5g kiosks across the city where we can celebrate the next version of what will enable communication across the city. This is everything from voice phone calls, video, phone calls, and social connections, all powered by both services on the kiosk and the wifi provided through the kiosk,” Fraser said.
New York City Council member Julie Won underscored that while there are many nostalgic memories for the corded phone—and even iconic movie moments surrounded by payphones such as the Matrix—the world has moved on to a digital age. Won commended LinkNYC for making the internet inclusive to all New Yorkers regardless of income levels.
“We are truly in a digital age and none of us have felt it more than we did during COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic and 2020 what broke my heart, along with the food distributions within our community, was watching a child, a seven-year-old girl go to school using a tablet at a bus stop through LinkNYC, but thank God there was LinkNYC to allow children to connect to wifi so that they can attend school if they did not have Wi Fi at home,” Won said.