NY Payphones to Become Wi-Fi Hot Spots

NEW YORK (AP/Hamodia) -
A covered wireless kiosk at a New York intersection on Dec. 31, signaling a plan to turn payphones into what's billed as the world's biggest and fastest municipal wi-fi network. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A covered wireless kiosk at a New York intersection on Dec. 31, signaling a plan to turn payphones into what’s billed as the world’s biggest and fastest municipal wi-fi network. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Operator, won’t you help me replace this call?

A 9-foot-tall, narrow structure installed last week on a Manhattan sidewalk is signaling a plan to turn payphones into what’s billed as the world’s biggest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network.

The first of at least 7,500 planned hot spots are due to go online soon, promising superfast and free Wi-Fi service, new street phones with free calling, ports to charge personal phones and a no-cost windfall for the city.

For now, the first hot spot is still being tested and sits under a gray cover. But some passers-by like the sound of what’s in store. “It’s always helpful” to have Wi-Fi to reduce the bite that apps take out of cellular data service, which is capped in many consumers’ plans, Jack Thomas said while texting near the dormant kiosk.

But others have qualms about New Yorkers linking their devices to a public network as they stroll down the street, though the city has said data will be encrypted and any information harvested for advertising will be anonymized.

“I think it makes us all more vulnerable to wrongdoers,” Bee Mosca said as she eyed the future hot spot.

Members of the Jewish community expressed concern about the news.

“I am very worried about how this will affect us,” Heshy, a Boro Park father of 11, who asked only to be identified by his first name, told Hamodia on Sunday. “Even the secular society is beginning to realize that unfettered, unfiltered internet access is dangerous for youngsters, and these new wi-fi stations are going to be a huge temptation – and a devastating spiritual trap, for many.”

“There is also reason to be fearful about the type of ads that will be placed on these devices,” he added.

Payphones may seem like telecom relics when 68 percent of Americans own smartphones. But about 8,200 payphones still dot New York streets, about 37 percent of those inspected last year inoperable. The city experimented with providing Wi-Fi from a few payphones in 2012, then hatched the current, eight-year “LinkNYC” plan.

A consortium of companies, including wireless technology player Qualcomm Inc., is to pay the estimated $200 million installation cost and take half the revenue from the kiosks’ digital advertising, projected at $1 billion over 12 years. The city gets the other half, more than doubling the $17 million a year it gets from payphones now.

Each hot spot covers about a 150-foot radius with what’s pledged as one-gigabit-per-second service, about 20 times the speed of average home internet service. Officials have said the service is intended for outdoor use; it’s not clear whether it might extend inside some businesses and homes.