New York pay phones to be changed into Wi-Fi hubs

Pay phones on New York City streets would become a thing of the past under a plan announced Monday that would replace them with stand-alone devices offering free Wi-Fi and nationwide phone calls as well as mobile phone charging capability.

Phones out of service, but hubs would have free internet access, cellphone charging

Pay phones on New York City streets would become a thing of the past under a plan announced Monday that would replace them with stand-alone devices offering free Wi-Fi and nationwide phone calls as well as mobile phone charging capability.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said LinkNYC, a plan proposed by a group of companies working together under the name CityBridge, had been selected to replace the old pay phone system. Up to 10,000 column-like devices would be placed in all five boroughs starting next year if the plan is approved by the city's Franchise and Concession Review Committee.
A disused pay phone is covered in snow in Times Square in New York Feb. 5, 2014. The city plans to replace its pay phones with Wi-Fi hubs, beginning next year. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The devices, along with Wi-Fi, would also have touchscreens for users to access city agencies and digital displays for advertising and announcements.

The devices would replace 8,400 pay phones in 6,452 installations around the city. The only pay phones left would be three booth-style pay phones on the Upper West Side that would be preserved as pieces of New York City history.

De Blasio said the plan wouldn't cost city taxpayers anything. He said the money to cover the cost would come through revenues from the advertising. The city said the advertising revenue would bring in $500 million over the next 12 years.

De Blasio said the system would expand access to broadband.

Free access

"With this proposal for the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world — accessible to and free for all New Yorkers and visitors alike — we're taking a critical step toward a more equal, open and connected city," he said.

Each hub would have free internet access, free domestic calls using cellphones or a built-in keypad, a charging station for mobile devices and access to city services and directions.

De Blasio is pitching the idea as a boon for low-income people, who rely disproportionately on cellphones for access to the internet. The hubs would be a low-cost alternative to data charges.

CityBridge is made up of companies including Qualcomm Incorporated, Comark, Control Group and Titan. The city said the consortium has committed to making the devices in New York City, and the LinkNYC program is expected to create up to 150 jobs in manufacturing, technology and advertising, as well as 650 support jobs.

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