After two years of planning, NYC begins converting phone booths to free Wi-Fi kiosks

It's been nearly two years since New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio and CityBridge announced a project called LinkNYC to transform public pay phones in New York City into digital hubs. And while we have been following this story and blogging about in during that time (see: 

New York City to have the “Fastest Free Wi-Fi in the World”

 and 

From Waste To WiFi: New York City’s Innovation Shows No Signs of Slowing

), we can finally report that we should soon see some of these Wi-Fi kiosks popping up around the city.

According to a 

recent article in the Wall Street Journal

, work will begin this month to transform telephone booths in the city's five boroughs into free Wi-Fi hotspots. The city anticipates that 500 hotspots will be installed by July with an eventual overhaul of 7,500 pay phones by 2017. When complete, New York City could have the largest and most efficient Wi-Fi network in the world.

The hot spots will sit atop a 9.5-foot kiosk with electronic screens on each side to display advertising, said the WSJ. The kiosk will also provide an Android tablet that can be used to place free phone calls in the U.S., go online and charge mobile devices. While projects like these have failed in other cities because of slow Internet speeds and requiring people to sit through ads before logging on, LinkNYC is addressing these issues. It claims it will deliver broadband speeds of 1,000 megabits a second, about 100 times typical speeds provided by wireless carriers, and will not force users to sit through ads on their mobile devices to log on. Instead, CityBridge plans to make money via advertising on the billboards housed on the kiosks.

The LinkNYC project promises several benefits to the city, its residents and businesses. During its 12-year contract, CityBridge will pay the city $500 million or a 50% revenue share, whichever is greater. While this service may pose long-term competition for carriers such as AT&T and Verizon, in the short term, the additional Wi-Fi coverage will likely compliment their service by reducing the strain on their services and fill in the spotty mobile coverage common in the city due to skyscrapers. It will also help provide broadband access to the nearly 30% of 

people in New York City without it at home.

The project could be a boon for the local economy; according to a report by 

Wired

, "the free services will attract job hunters, freelancers, small businesses and tech startups." 

As we mentioned before, 

free WiFi and information hubs will likely test the role technology can play to close the digital divide and change the ways people experience and interact with cities. And, while online security has not yet been addressed in the LinkNYC project  we hope that it will also encourage Internet and advertising providers to address the risk of data breaches over public Wi-Fi.