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New York City to Offer Free Wireless Internet Access at Payphones

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, July 11 2012

(credit: DoITT)

New Yorkers will be able to access free, unlimited WiFi through pay phone locations as part of a pilot program launched by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the agency announced today.

Initially, the WiFi will be available at ten locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, with plans to eventually expand the program throughout the city. This Internet access will be available without coughing up personal information or having to view advertising, according to a statement. The expected radius of the WiFi is 100 to 200 feet from each kiosk. As part of the program, the city is cooperating with payphone companies Van Wagner and Titan.

In Manhattan, the kiosks that are part of the program are in Soho, the Theater District, near Grand Central and the United Nations, Midtown-Clinton, the Upper West Side and the Fur/Flower District. The locations in Brooklyn and Queens are in the Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Heights area and in Astoria. The exact locations are available here.

“Expanding public access to broadband technology across the five boroughs, be it wired or wireless, is at the heart of the Bloomberg Administration’s efforts to promote greater digital inclusion for New Yorkers,” said recently named Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul Merchant, according to the statement. “Today’s announcement does just that, while also allowing us to enhance existing telecommunications infrastructure – public payphones – in an innovative way. 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.”

“One of the most frequent requests from New Yorkers is for more public WiFi in public spaces,” added Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne. “Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, today the City provides free WiFi access in a wide range of public spaces, including every library branch and more than 40 parks across the five boroughs.”

In conjunction with the pilot program, DoITT has also released a request for information to get feedback from the public about the long-term future of city-regulated pay phones. The pay phones operate through franchise agreements with the companies that date back to 1999, and they expire in October 2014. The responses to the RFI and the findings of the pilot program will inform the city's future efforts. According to the statement, there are currently 12,360 DoITT-regulated public pay telephones on the city's sidewalks from 13 companies. Of that total, 5,766 are in Manhattan, 2,530 are in Queens, 2,386 are in Brooklyn, 1,553 are in the Bronx, and 125 are in Staten Island.