NYC wants to turn its numerous payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots

New York City is looking for a partner to bring its thousands of pay phones into the internet age. The New York Times reports that yesterday, the city put out a call for bids on its public pay phone system, which currently includes around 10,000 phones across the five boroughs. Right now, ten companies have a franchise to operate parts of the network, but those contracts expire on October 15th of this year, and the system itself is in need of an overhaul as New Yorkers depend less on landline telephony and more on internet services. 

In the era of smartphones, pay phones look increasingly dumb. Dumb, that is, to everyone but advertisers and pay phone operators, who are happy to place thousands of small billboards at consumer eye level. A survey conducted Monday along an unscientifically selected route (my 21-block walk home from the office, largely along Eighth Avenue) found 22 curbside public phones in 17 enclosures, with a total of 48 advertising panels. To replace and augment these enclosures, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio envisions as many as 10,000 “public communications structures.” These kiosks would provide free Wi-Fi service around the clock and at least enough standard telephone service to permit anyone to place a free call to 911 or 311.

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