Just when you thought living in New York could not get any more fun, the powers that be have decided to embark on a program to get more of the city wired- by placing Wi-Fi hot spots around town. And where better to put a hot-spot than in what used to be New Yorkers' main mode of communication when out on the town; a public pay-phone kiosk.
"What we are doing is taking the current infrastructure that we have already have, leverage it up, add few more technological advance and, frankly, with the new information age you can put so much information and pack it up into small devices," said Rahul Merchant, Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer.
In case you were thinking that these kiosks should go the way of the dinosaur, think again. First of all, it’s kind of nice to have those pay phones around just in case your cell-phone’s battery runs out, or your phone is lost, stolen, or dropped in a fountain during lunch hour. Apparently this happens more often than you might guess; New York’s pay phones were used to make 27 million calls last year, excluding emergency calls to 911.
So if the phones are staying, might as well make them more useful, and so the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications– (did you know we had such a department?) posted a “Request for Information” document soliciting ideas from the public for what to do with our pay phone kiosks. The DITT came up with a few ideas of their own for the sidewalk phones, including making the kiosks into power stations or possibly adding touch screens into the booths with information and maps and other helpful forms of media.
But according to Rachel Sterne, New York’s Chief Digital Officer, the most popular idea seems to be creating Wi-Fi hot-spots out of the kiosks, and the project is already underway on a small scale. So far, out of the city’s 12,000 phone booths 10 have already been converted in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. More are planned for the Bronx and Staten Island, too.
The conversion costs about $2,000 per phone booth, but not a cent of that cost will come from tax payers. The payphone providers, Titan is the largest, along with Van Wagner Communications, will foot the bill, in hopes of increasing their advertising revenues.
"We believe deeply that New York City deserves to have great technology on the streets and the payphone franchise is an excellent way to provide that," said Scott Goldsmith, Titan's Executive Vice President.
The service is absolutely free and available 24 hours a day. The hot-spot should travel to within 100-200 feet of the kiosk.
"We have tremendous resources with our infrastructure that's under the streets in New York City. And when you think about unlimited bandwidth and electric on thousands of street corners, the possibilities are endless," said Peter Izzo, Senior Operations Executive of Van Wagner Communications.
Adding the hot-spots to payphones is just furthering a process that is already underway in many city parks, including Battery Park, Central Park and Fort Greene Park.
"This is one of the most developed cities in the whole world and our goal is to provide as much access to information technology and information as possible," Merchant added.