In New York, fast, free Wi-Fi is right down the block

The old-fashioned pay phone is getting an update.

New York has begun replacing thousands of telephone booths with 2.9-meter-tall kiosks offering free, lightning-fast internet connections to anyone within 45 meters.

With mobile phones so common, pay phones have become obsolete. Demand for Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is multiplying rapidly. The new internet kiosks will even let people make free phone calls.

Pay phones on city sidewalk (Shutterstock)
Pay phones like these are a dying breed on New York streets. (Shutterstock)

When completed over several years, the 7,500 kiosks, called “Links,” will give New York the world’s largest-and-fastest, free, municipal Wi-Fi network, says Mayor Bill de Blasio, and make the Big Apple “a more equal, open and connected city” for residents and visitors alike.

The kiosks won’t cost New York a penny, but rather will earn the city money. LinkNYC, an alliance of internet companies, builds the kiosks on public sidewalks. For that privilege, it shares with New York a portion of the revenues it earns by selling advertising space on the kiosks. The city projects its portion will amount to $500 million over 12 years.

Each kiosk has a tablet that allows people to surf the web and get maps, directions and information about city services. Calls can be placed to all 50 states. There’s a red button to call the emergency number 911 for help. People can even recharge their devices’ batteries.

Person holding USB cable next to charging station (Courtesy of CityBridge)
Close-up of a LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosk. (Courtesy photo)

The Wi-Fi speeds are 100 times faster than home networks, according to LinkNYC. But the program is not without critics, VOA’s Caty Weaver reports. Some neighbors have complained about loud music, videos and television shows emanating from the kiosks.

Some also worry about privacy issues, including the city’s use of cameras on the Links to monitor traffic and crime. LinkNYC does offer encrypted connections and says users’ email addresses and web destinations will not be shared with third parties.

Additional reporting by ShareAmerica.