New York City Turns Pay Phones Into Wi-Fi Hotspots

New York also looks for citizen input on long-term future of public payphones.

Patience Wait, Contributor

July 11, 2012

2 Min Read

10 New Mobile Government Apps

10 New Mobile Government Apps

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New York City on Wednesday launched a pilot program to provide free public Wi-Fi from existing pay phone kiosks around the city.

New York's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) will provide free connectivity for smartphones, tablets, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices at 10 locations in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Other locations will be added in the coming months, including in the Bronx and Staten Island.

The hotspot technology is being provided by Titan and Van Wagner Communications, vendors that provide public pay phone services in the city. The service range for each hotspot is expected to be up to 200 feet from each kiosk.

The DoITT also has issued a Request for Information to solicit citizen feedback about the long-term future of city-regulated public pay phones.

The popularity of cell phones has led to a precipitous drop in the number of pay phones nationwide, from 2.1 million in March 1999, according to Federal Communications Commission data, to under 500,000 today, an estimate provided by the American Public Communications Council, a pay phone providers trade group.

New York City last awarded pay phone contracts in 1999. Those are set to expire in 2014, and city officials are looking for citizen input on what to do with the 12,000 pay phone kiosks in place, including whether to eliminate them or change them to other kinds of communications services such as Wi-Fi hotspots or charging stations for mobile devices. In April, the city disclosed plans to test touch-screen kiosks as replacements for some pay phones.

The city already provides Wi-Fi hotspots in a variety of public spaces, including libraries and parks, but chief digital officer Rachel Sterne said residents want more. The pilot program is aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of using the pay phone kiosk infrastructure more broadly, gauging demand for Wi-Fi services in different parts of the city, and enhancing the value of the city's public pay phones.

There will be no limit on Wi-Fi connection time. To access the service, users select a "Free Wi-Fi" option on their devices and agree to the usage terms. Personal information will not be gathered and advertising will not be presented as part of the pilot program, according to the DoITT.

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Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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