Solving Cities

NYC turns obsolete payphones into free Wi-Fi hotspots

NYC turns obsolete payphones into free Wi-Fi hotspots

Posting in Cities

New York City is seeking ideas about what to do with its 12,360 public payphones.

Signs of the pre-cell phone era are still scattered throughout our urban areas in the form of public payphones. New York City alone has 12,360 public payphones regulated by the city.

So in New York, city officials are seeking ideas about what to do with the underused phones. One idea that's already being tested will mix the old technology with new technology.

The city announced yesterday that booths that house public payphones will become Wi-Fi hotspots. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet or other Wi-Fi-enabled device will be able to access Wi-Fi in these locations free of charge. For now this pilot program has 10 Wi-Fi hotspot locations in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. In the next few months more locations will be available in the Bronx and Staten Island.

"As we begin assessing the future of the payphone in New York City, this pilot should help us gauge public interest in the amenities the next generation of devices might offer," said Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul Merchant in a statement.

But, for now, this is only a test of the idea. The city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications is requesting feedback from residents about the future of the public payphones.

And as Government Technology points out, this isn't the first time the city has turned to improved technology in phone booths. Earlier this year, the city installed Internet-connected touchscreens with phonebook-like access to information about local businesses and neighborhood events.

All this raises the questions: What do you think your city should do with its public payphones? Are Wi-Fi hotspots the best use?

Photo: Flickr/Atomische Tom Giebel

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure