Can you download me now? NY payphones become Wi-Fi hot spots

January 1, 2016 byJennifer Peltz
Can you download me now? NY payphones become Wi-Fi hot spots
In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, people walk near a covered wireless kiosk at an intersection in New York. The 9-foot-tall, narrow structure installed this past week on a Manhattan sidewalk is signaling a plan to turn payphones into what's billed as the world's biggest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network. The first of at least 7,500 planned hot spots are due to go online early next year, promising superfast and free Wi-Fi service, new street phones with free calling, ports to charge personal phones and a no-cost windfall for the city. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Operator, won't you help me replace this call? A 9-foot-tall, narrow structure installed this past week on a Manhattan sidewalk is signaling a plan to turn payphones into what's billed as the world's biggest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network.

The first of at least 7,500 planned hot spots are due to go online early next year, promising superfast and free Wi-Fi service, new street phones with free calling, ports to charge personal phones and a no-cost windfall for the city.

With some cities nationwide making renewed pushes for public Wi-Fi after an earlier wave of enthusiasm faded, New York officials say their project is democratizing data access while modernizing outmoded street phones.

For now, the first hot spot is still being tested and sits under a gray cover. But some passers-by like the sound of what's in store.

"It's always helpful" to have Wi-Fi to reduce the bite that apps and web-surfing take out of cellular data service, which is capped in many consumers' plans, Jack Thomas said this week while texting near the dormant kiosk.

But others have qualms about New Yorkers linking their devices to a public network as they stroll down the street, though the city has said data will be encrypted and any information harvested for advertising will be anonymized.

In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, a man walks near a covered wireless kiosk at an intersection in New York. The 9-foot-tall, narrow structure installed this past week on a Manhattan sidewalk is signaling a plan to turn payphones into what's billed as the world's biggest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network. The first of at least 7,500 planned hot spots are due to go online early next year, promising superfast and free Wi-Fi service, new street phones with free calling, ports to charge personal phones and a no-cost windfall for the city. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

"I think it makes us all more vulnerable to wrongdoers," Bee Mosca said as she eyed the future hot spot.

Payphones may seem like telecom relics when 68 percent of Americans own smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center on Internet, Science & Technology. But about 8,200 payphones still dot New York streets.

Some were pressed into service amid outages after 2012's Superstorm Sandy, but their numbers and usage have declined overall, and 37 percent of those inspected last year were inoperable.

The city experimented with providing Wi-Fi from a few payphones in 2012, then hatched the current, eight-year "LinkNYC" plan.

A consortium of companies, including wireless technology player Qualcomm Inc., is to pay the estimated $200 million installation cost and take half the revenue from the kiosks' digital advertising, projected at $1 billion over 12 years. The city gets the other half, more than doubling the $17 million a year it gets from payphones now.

In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, women walk near a covered wireless kiosk at an intersection in New York. The 9-foot-tall, narrow structure installed this past week on a Manhattan sidewalk is signaling a plan to turn payphones into what's billed as the world's biggest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network. The first of at least 7,500 planned hot spots are due to go online early next year, promising superfast and free Wi-Fi service, new street phones with free calling, ports to charge personal phones and a no-cost windfall for the city. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Each hot spot covers about a 150-foot radius with what's pledged as one-gigabit-per-second service, about 20 times the speed of average home Internet service. Officials have said the service is intended for outdoor use; it's not clear whether it might extend inside some businesses and homes.

Though many Americans now carry Internet connectivity in their pockets, the network "can be a win for users who can save on their data plans, and it can be a win for (cellular) networks if they're really overtaxed," said Erik Stallman, general counsel of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a group that advocates for Internet liberties and access.

Tourists without local cellular service also could benefit, noted John Breyault, a National Consumers League vice president.

LinkNYC isn't without opponents: A payphone company has sued the city, saying it created a monopoly for the new consortium. The city has said it believes the arrangement is legal.

Many U.S. cities strove to cover themselves in Wi-Fi in the early 2000s. But a number of the plans foundered as home access proliferated, usage and ad revenues disappointed and some Internet service providers complained the city networks were unfair competitors.

But some cities have recently recast and reinvigorated their efforts. Boston is working to expand a "Wicked Free WiFi" network with over 170 hot spots, and Los Angeles is encouraging private companies to provide free basic wireless to all homes and businesses, with outdoor coverage as a goal.

Still, some question whether it's wise for city governments to get into offering Wi-Fi, rather than leaving it to businesses.

But "New York is not a typical city," said Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications analyst and consultant.

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howhot2
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 02, 2016
Every city should have them. Every street block should have them. What a fantastic tech for the city dwellers and trolls of the cyberspace. Once you learn how to VOIP who needs a cell! This is the most awesome coolness tech coming to the streets. You are so lucky NY!
greenonions
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 02, 2016
What shall we do with all those people who are employed collecting and processing bags and bags of quarters? Next they will be coming for our parking meters. Oh the cost of progress (-:
Mike_Massen
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 02, 2016
Where I live in Perth, Western Australia, I can travel south to Albany some 400+km, log into the Dome coffee shop free wifi with my iinet sip settings & receive ye olde landline calls direct. So the caller dials my normal landline into any compatible generic phone & as telstra (the national telco) being hooked to my ISP & sip server connects with other sip/voip servers it locates me & the caller sees it as only a local call, the beauty is I visit all over Australia anywhere, they get charged a local call (unless they are also on voip) & they don't know where I am. ie I could be in my office, lab or visiting associates labs anywhere across all Australia :-)

Just heard from ex iinet IT consultant its extended to south east asean region so even Singapore/Taiwan etc exactly same as local call & latency managed to be as low as possible too

This is great as also get 1 sec max delay day trading on ASX stocks wherever I want, ain't the world getting to be interesting...
rgw
5 / 5 (1) Jan 02, 2016
Allowing the 'cable' companies to create artificial limits on our public data streams and then charge 'extra' for access is theft equal to any PONZI scheme. I currently pay a 'discounted' $55 per month for a 30Mbit data stream. I need this minimum to deal with 4K content which will be the only content sooner than later. The provider's' cost for such a data rate is less than $ONE dollar per month. Actually much less as most of this $1 'cost' is corporate overhead, e.g. salaries.

someone11235813
3.8 / 5 (4) Jan 02, 2016
There are only three photos in this article of 'people walking near a covered kiosk', can we have more of this type of helpful illustrative journalism? We have "a man walks near a covered wireless kiosk", "a woman walks near a covered wireless kiosk" and "people walk near a covered wireless kiosk". How about some photos of animals, or even disabled people wheeling near one of these covered kiosks?
howhot2
3 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2016
So @someone11235813, I guess you thing this is some sort of vapor tech? Just Vapor tech waiting for money to make the idea become reality. It may be. Tech startups usually don't happen in NY or the East coast, but who is to know. It can happen anywhere with the right attitude and moxey for the tech. Let us all remember that the enterprise has to make money. I can see the venture working.

someone11235813
5 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2016

@howhot2,

So @someone11235813, I guess you thing this is some sort of vapor tech?


I'm not sure how to finagled your way to that conclusion, my post was a comment on ridiculous use of photo illustrations. You've seen one grey covered monolith on a sidewalk, you seen them all.
howhot2
5 / 5 (2) Jan 09, 2016
@someone11235813, we are cool. My mistake.

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