NYC adds free WiFi to pay phones, making them useful again

Pay phones, those relics of another millennium you occasionally see along on the street, like a hitching post in a western town, could soon get a lot more popular in New York City.

People still won’t use the actual phones, but they’ll likely be hanging around them, now that the city has started turning some of them into free WiFi hot spots.

New York’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has started with 10 locations -- two in Brooklyn, one in Queens and seven in Manhattan -- and plans to add more in all five boroughs, according to an announcement from DOITT.

The city already offers free WiFi in libraries and parks, but it had been getting a lot of requests for more access, said Rachel Stone, the city’s chief digital officer. So officials hit on the idea of providing access at some the pay-phone kiosks still hanging around.

The kiosks will offer access around the clock with no limit on usage and are expected to work within a 100-to-200-foot range, the city said. The pay phones themselves will still work -- wireless routers are just being added to the kiosks -- and the cost of converting the kiosks to WiFi is being picked up by the pay-phone providers.

As part of the pilot project, DOITT also has issued a request for information to gather public feedback on the program, which it said would help determine the future of public pay phones on the city’s streets.


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