Free Wi-Fi hot spots coming to city payphones

Just when you thought there was no more use for the pay phone kiosks on the street the city has found a new way to bring them into the 21st Century.

The mayor’s office put out a call to designers and engineers Thursday to see who can come up with the plans to turn thousands of pay phones in the five boroughs into free Wi-Fi hot spots.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the upgraded 9,100 kiosks would help all New Yorkers from the tech savvy to the old fashioned residents.

“By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric, we can significantly enhance public availability of increasingly vital broadband access, invite new and innovative digital services, and increase revenue to the city-all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers,” he said in a statement.

The request for proposal, which will be open for submissions until June 30, has some requirements. The winning proposal will provide for the installation, operation, and maintenance of the updated pay phones and the stations must be able to provide 311 and 911 calls for free.

Advertising will pay for the phone booths and will generate $17.5 million in guaranteed annual revenue through 2026, according to the mayor’s office.

The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications said it aims to get the first stations up and running by spring or summer 2015.

Laura Forlano, who is a board member of NYCwireless, a Wi-Fi advocacy group that has been pushing for more free wireless access in New York applauded the city’s plans. Forlano, who is an Assistant Professor of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said the city really needs to pick up its online infrastructure to compete with other cities worldwide economically.

“Having someone go on online for free, can be beneficial for visitors and residents alike,” she said.

Forlano noted that Verizon tried a similar Wi-Fi pay phone hot spot pilot program in 2005 but it didn’t last long.

“In the end, they said there wasn’t enough demand but part of that was the fact that computers and devices were big back then and it wasn’t convenient hauling that outside,” she said.

Forlano suggested that the city and whoever submits a proposal should look into maximizing the number of the Wi-Fi booths in neighborhoods that have limited broadband access.

“One thing to keep in mind is that many neighborhoods have old copper wire infrastructure and the service gets interrupted,” she said. “These Wi-Fi hot spots could alleviate the difficulties.”

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