Rendering of a Link in Brooklyn.

Nov 26 2014

New York City Moves Closer to Replacing Pay Phones With Free Wi-Fi Stations

The city selected a proposal for the design and implementation of the new communications network.

New York City plans to begin replacing pay phone structures with high-tech kiosks by year’s end to make way for construction of a new communications network — LinkNYC — in 2015.

The city announced last week that a team of companies operating under the name CityBridge would design and install the network of 10,000 Links structures. Computer-chip maker Qualcomm is part of the team and will serve as adviser for the project to ensure LinkNYC keeps current with the latest developments in communications technology.

The kiosks, or Links connection points, will provide residents and visitors with a range of free services: round-the-clock Gigabit Internet access, a touchscreen tablet interface for accessing city services, cellphone charging and the ability to call anywhere in the U.S, including 911 and 311 access. Internet speeds are so fast that users will be able to download a two-hour high-definition movie in 30 seconds.

The Links structures will adhere to Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and be outfitted with a tactile keypad and Braille lettering.

Building a Secure, Sustainable Network

Security is also a priority. New York City’s Wi-Fi services will include an encrypted network connection between users and the hotspot. Still, users will be encouraged to use end-to-end encryption capabilities, such as Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), if they choose to conduct sensitive transactions or share data.

The LinkNYC plans are subject to approval by the city’s six-member Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC). If it gets the OK, the project “would be funded through advertising revenues, built at no cost to taxpayers and generate more than $500 million in revenue for the city over the next 12 years,” according to a news release issued by Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.

CityBridge would have a nonexclusive franchise agreement with the New York City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

“It's essential for everything we need to do to be a fair and just city, because we can't continue to have a digital divide that holds back so many of our citizens,” de Blasio said of the new network in the release. “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 — for every New Yorker, in every borough.”

Before awarding a franchise, the FCRC must conduct a hearing, and at least five of its members must vote to approve the move. In fiscal 2014, the FCRC approved four franchise transactions, bringing the total of existing franchises to 60, the committee noted on its website. The franchises generated more than $200 million in revenue, $48 million of which came from information services displayed on bus shelters, newsstands and other street fixtures.

CityBridge will establish an advisory committee to coordinate with various organizations, including nonprofits, academic institutions, Business Improvement Districts and think tanks. The goal: to ensure that LinkNYC adequately serves all residents. CityBridge will also help train residents on how to use the network.

Learn more about Wi-Fi projects in other cities.