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New York City pay phone kiosks become Wi-Fi hot spots

July 12, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • A man uses a New York City pay phone in 1997. Although millions of calls were made on the city's pay phones in 2011, the city is looking for new uses for the kiosks. One is adding Wi-Fi.
A man uses a New York City pay phone in 1997. Although millions of calls were… (Joe Tabacca / For The Times )

We've often wondered what would happen to the pay phone -- that relic of a time before cell phone domination. 

Will they disappear? Will they be kept around for those times when your cell phone has died? Will they be transformed into something more useful?

One potential solution comes from New York City, which launched a pilot program Wednesday that turned some of the city's 12,000 pay phone kiosks into Wi-Fi hot spots.

"We are taking an existing infrastructure and leveraging it up to provide more access to information," said Rahul Merchant, the city's chief information officer, the Associated Press reports. 

The city has already converted 10 payphone kiosks in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn into Wi-Fi hot spots and more of these mini-experiments are planned for the Bronx and Staten Island.

Pay phone enthusiasts need not fear: No pay phones were harmed (or removed) during the Wi-Fi conversion process. Instead, a router was simply added to each kiosk, which allows an Internet signal to extend for a couple of feet around it, the AP explains. 

Visitors and residents will be able to use the Internet service for free, and the signal will be available 24 hours a day.

And the best part? The city doesn't have to foot the bill for any of the conversions, which cost about $2,000 per kiosk, according to Fox News. Instead, the fee is paid by the payphone providers themselves who are hoping the new plan will increase their advertising revenue.

Although this Wi-Fi hot spot idea is pretty cool, the city is still looking for other options.

On Wednesday the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications posted a Request for Information document (PDF), asking the public to weigh in on the future of public pay telephones on New York City sidewalks. The DITT also floated some other ideas like turning the phone kiosks into powering stations or putting touch screen technology in the kiosks that might let people access maps and other helpful media. 

But New York City isn't quite ready to rip out it's pay phones. The city reports that 27 million calls were made from payphones in New York City in 2011, not including 911 calls.

It should also be noted that the city has already installed many free Wi-Fi hot spots in public parks, including Battery Park, parts of Central Park, and Fort Greene Park.


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