New York City wants its old pay phones to be free Wi-Fi hotspots

A couple of years ago New York City launched a pilot program to see how well old pay phone booths could work as free Wi-Fi hotspots. While that initial trial only involved ten locations, apparently it has been a real success, as the De Blasio administration is now looking for an operator prepared to convert up to 10,000 of the old booths to 21st century technology.

The whole plan sounds like a no-brainer, as pretty much nobody except the local drug dealers is still using these yucky 20th century relics as phones, and the wiring needed to connect the booths to the local infrastructure is already there. Once converted, the booths will no longer function as regular coin-operated pay phones, although free calls to 911 or NYC's 311 general help line will still work.

Currently 9,133 of the phones are being operated under a franchise which expires in October, so this seems like the perfect time to make a bold change. The new Wi-Fi hotspots will be free to use, with advertising supporting their operation. The new operator will be required to pay the city $17.5 million per year, or 50 percent of advertising revenue, whichever is greater. Advertising dollars actually come from two different sources, because the pay phone booths can also be used for billboard advertising, much as they are today.

One neat feature of the online hotspot advertising, is that it may be possible to direct ads to a specific location. For example, if a tourist searches Yelp for restaurants from a free hotspot, he could be sent advertising for local eateries right next to where he is standing.

I just hope this rollout goes a little more quickly than the years of promises we've had regarding Wi-Fi in the subway system. Down there, the problem is more acute as cellphone signals can't reach underground. Still, having a city blanketed with free Wi-Fi is a promise worth waiting for. If it works here, surely this can be a blueprint for how other cities can offer free Internet access in the future.

Via New York Times

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