Payphones in New York City have largely been made obsolete by the fact that almost everybody’s got a cell phone for staying in touch on-the-go. Luckily for the long-forgotten phones that still dot the city’s streets, they’re about to get a twenty-first-century upgrade.
New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications introduced on Wednesday the city’s first payphones-turned-WI-Fi hotspots. They’re free of charge for any nearby New Yorker (or visitor) to use for connecting his smart phone, tablet or laptop to the Internet. Internet services are being provided in cooperation with Van Wagner and Titan.
So far, 10 payphones spread across Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn have become WI-Fi-equipped as part of a pilot program. Other WI-Fi payphones are being planned for The Bronx and Staten Island. In total, New York City has 12,360 payphones that could become hotspots.
In a statement, the city promised that “no personal information will be gathered and no advertising will be presented as part of the pilot program.”
People headed to the payphone hotspot on Broadway and 49th St. to test its connection. The payphone was identifiable by a banner advertising “free WI-Fi here.” Otherwise, nothing distinguished the Wi-Fi payphone from any other unit.
Connecting was easy: They simply selected “NYC-PUBLIC-WIFI” from the list of available networks, and then agreed to the terms and conditions of the service. Standing right beside the payphones, we recorded speeds of 6.08mpbs down and .07mpbs up.
Those aren’t lightning-fast numbers, but for a free and public service, they’re not too shabby — just don’t plan on downloading a full-length movie through a payphone hotspot any time soon. Oh, and don’t cross the street — there, you’ll find only 1.02mbps down and .06mbps up.
City officials hailed the project as a step forward in expanding high-speed Internet access for residents.
“Expanding public access to broadband technology across the five boroughs is it wired or wireless is at the heart of the Bloomberg Administration’s efforts to promote greater digital inclusion for New Yorkers,” said Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul N. Merchant. “Today’s announcement does just that, while also allowing us to enhance existing telecommunications infrastructure –- public payphones –- in an innovative way.”
The City is also asking residents to submit ideas regarding the future of the city’s payphones, as the current provider agreements end in late 2014.
“As we begin assessing the future of the payphone in New York City, this pilot should help us gauge public interest in the amenities the next generation of devices might offer,” said Merchant.
New York City also offers free Wi-Fi in public parks and libraries across the city. How else can cities expand Wi-Fi access for their citizens? Share your ideas in the comments below.