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

The remaining 6,400 payphones throughout New York City’s five boroughs will be replaced by free Wi-Fi kiosks, according to city officials.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which issued a request for proposals (RFP) earlier this year, awarded the Wi-Fi hotspot project to CityBridge, a consortium of companies including advertising firm and current pay-phone franchisee Titan Outdoor, digital consulting firm Control Group, giant chip-maker Qualcomm and hardware manufacturer Comark. The network is called LinkNYC and it will provide free, very fast (up to one gigabit per second) 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.

If the contract with CityBridge is approved and the New York City’s Design Commission okays the design, the first 500-plus kiosks will be installed by the end of next year. CityBridge has four years to complete installation of the first 4,000 structures, with 10,000 total kiosks anticipated at the end of the initiative (according to the RFP).

So what does this mean to the people of New York City? The New York Times reported that “Mr. de Blasio called expanded broadband access ‘essential for everything we need to do to be a fair and just city,’ adding that the system would be ‘the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world.’”

These free, fast hotspots might also be good for business. According to a report by Wired earlier this year, the city sees these kiosks as real moneymakers – and not just for the city, which is guaranteed payment of $20 million in advertising revenue in the first year of operation.

Wired reports, “The free services will attract job hunters, freelancers, small businesses and tech startups, as well as residents that cannot afford good broadband. In addition to contributing to the economy in this way, new jobs will be created through the servicing of the hubs, and the city estimates it will make $17.5 million annually by June 2026 from digital advertising displayed on them.”

While the LinkNYC initiative has been praised by most, it has had to face some criticism, including questions about data privacy and how these kiosks will work during power outages. (Pay phones served a critical function during Hurricane Sandy two years ago.) The city said that personal data would only be used in aggregate and that backup batteries would allow for 911 calls to be made for at least 24 hours after power went out.

We have not heard how the city will address data security, since public Wi-Fi is a prime target for hackers. But we will keep you informed as the launch of these new kiosks approaches. In the meantime, we thought this might be a good time to remind all Wi-Fi users about data security tips we provided in an earlier blog, How to protect your data when using public Wi-Fi.