A 9-foot-tall, narrow structure installed this past week on a Manhattan sidewalk is signaling a plan to turn public pay-phones 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 early next year, 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.
With some cities nationwide making renewed pushes for Wi-Fi after an earlier wave of enthusiasm faded, New York officials say their project is democratizing data access while modernizing outmoded street phones. 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.
While texting near a dormant kiosk Jack Thomas said this week, “It’s always helpful” to have Wi-Fi to reduce the bite that apps and web-surfing take out of cellular data service, which is capped in many consumers’ plans. 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,” said Bee Mosca as she eyed the future hot spot.
Pay phones may seem like telecom relics when 68 percent of Americans own smartphones, according to Pew Research Center on Internet, Science & Technology. But about 8,200 pay phones still exist on New York streets. Some of which were pressed into service amid outages after 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, but their numbers and usage have declined overall, and 37 percent of those inspected last year were inoperable.
A consortium of companies, including Qualcomm Inc., is to pay the estimated $200 million installation cost and take half the revenue form the kiosks’ digital advertising, projected a $1 billion over 12 years. The city gets the other half, more than doubling the $17 million a year it gets from pay phones 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.
Though many Americans now carry Internet connectivity in their pockets, the network “can be a win for users who can save on their data plans, and it can be a win for (cellular) networks if they’re really overtaxed,” said Erik Stallman, general counsel of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a group that advocates for Internet liberties and access. Tourists without local cellular service also could benefit, noted John Breyault, a National Consumers League vice president.
LinkNYC isn’t without opponents: A pay phone company has sued the city, saying it created a monopoly for the new consortium. The city said it believes the arrangement is legal.
Read Article (Jennifer Peltz | huffingtonpost.com | 01/04/2016)
This project is also a win for many of those not able to afford Internet at home, especially school children and their homework.
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