There were about 2.2 million pay phones in the U.S. as of 2000 and now there are under 500,000, according to the American Public Communications Council. The decline in pay phone usage is largely attributed to the ubiquity of mobile phones. The city of New York plans to replace its pay phones with up to 10,000 free public Wi-Fi kiosks that have speeds of up to a gigabit (1,000 Mbps). This plan is called LinkNYC.
Aside from Wi-Fi, the kiosks will also offer free domestic phone calls including 911 and 311. Android-based touchscreen tablets control the kiosks, which can be used for accessing directions, public service announcements and city services. Charging stations for mobile devices will be built into the kiosks too.
The LinkNYC operation will be funded through advertising without additional costs to taxpayers. LinkNYC is estimated to generate over $500 million in revenue for New York City over the first twelve years. LinkNYC will also create between 100-150 new full-time jobs and 650 support jobs. But launching the LinkNYC project is estimated to cost over $200 million, reported Time.com.
When it launches, LinkNYC will be the “fastest and largest free municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the world.” It will be more than 20 times faster than the average home Internet service in New York City. The Link kiosks will have a connectivity range of about 150 feet. And the number of devices that can connect to each Wi-Fi kiosk simultaneously is 250.
The construction of the LinkNYC network will start next year and the first kiosks will be operational by the end of 2015. LinkNYC said that up to 10,000 Links will be installed across all five boroughs: the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. LinkNYC was created through a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and CityBridge. CityBridge is a consortium of companies, which includes Qualcomm, Titan, Control Group, Comark, Transit Wireless and Antenna Design.
“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,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in October 2012, pay phones became very useful since many cellphone networks went down due to power failures. That is being taken under consideration under the LinkNYC program. The kiosks will have backup batteries to allow 911 emergency calls for at least 24 hours when the power goes out.
CityBridge said it will never share or sell protected personal information. However, it will collect aggregate data anonymously from a pool of users to set up effective ad campaigns. Government officials started testing the pay phone Wi-Fi program as part of a pilot under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership a couple of years ago.
The LinkNYC plan still has to be approved by the Franchise and Concession Review Committee of New York City. To preserve history, the city of New York will keep three booth-style pay phones on the Upper West Side.
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