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In New York City, the future is calling. New York City is saying goodbye to sidewalk pay phones, and hello to free Wi-Fi kiosks. Plans call for installing 7,500 of them.
“This is going to be the fastest and largest free municipal network in the world,” said Colin O’Donnell, the chief technology officer for CityBridge, which is partnering with the city to replace the old pay phones with high speed internet.
They’re called Links: slabs that look like fancy mall directories, but are actually hubs for Wi-Fi that can reach as far as 400 feet, about a block and a half. They’ll include built-in tablet computers, and phone chargers. You can use them to call anywhere in the U.S. for free.
The first is already installed on a corner in the city’s East Village, though it hasn’t been switched on yet. Sitting at a Starbucks a few feet away, grad student Aliyah Guttmann said she’s a fan. “It’s interesting,” she said. “I mean it’s going to be more useful than a pay phone now.”
But she’s not sure how much she’ll use it. “I’m not going to be sitting outside with my computer on the Wi-Fi connecting to that and working there,” she said.
To pay for the new system, the kiosks will have ads, big ones, right there on the sidewalk. O’Donnell says those ads will raise enough to cover the free stuff, with money left over for the company and the city. City officials say all the free Wi-Fi fits with their mission to give more poor people access to the internet.
But the new kiosks do have their critics. Some worry about private information flowing out over the public Wi-Fi, others say they’ll miss the old pay phones. But officials say the network will be as safe as any public Wi-Fi. People can also opt for encryption.
And, for people who still love those Superman-style phone booths, three of them are staying put – even as the rest go up, up and away.
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