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NYC to Turn Pay-Phone Kiosks Into Free Wi-Fi Hotspots

new-york-pay-phone-wifiPay phones, what are they good for?

Creating one of the largest free public Wi-Fi networks in the country, of course. That was the vision laid out by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday, in an announcement that could transform those familiar relics of 20th century communication into next-generation broadband hubs.

New York City has issued a request for proposals designed to create a network of Internet hot spots that will blanket the Big Apple’s five boroughs with free wireless Internet access. If successful, the effort could provide a blueprint for other big cities, at a time when municipalities around the country are racing to provide better Internet connectivity for citizens.

The city has been toying with the concept of transforming pay phones into wireless hot spots for years. The previous administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a pilot project to explore the idea, but de Blasio’s announcement injects new energy into the plan.

“For years, the question was, ‘What to do with pay phones?’ and now we have an answer,” de Blasio said in a statement. “By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric, we can significantly enhance public availability of increasingly-vital broadband access, invite new and innovative digital services, and increase revenue to the city — all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.”

“Mayor de Blasio has made making New York City the most wired city in the world a policy,” says Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the NY Tech Meetup and a longtime advocate on city tech issues. “As a result, the administration wants to take advantage of every feasible piece of city-owned infrastructure to make that possible.”

In addition to free Wi-Fi, the revamped kiosks — which could contain solar-energy cells — will continue to offer traditional phone service, as well as free 911 and 311 calls. They could also contain free cell-phone-charging stations as well interactive touch screens that provide local information or facilitate business transactions.

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