NYC Pay Phones Will Be Resurrected As Wi-Fi Hotspots, If Google Gets Its Way

Currently, pay phones in New York City are known as smelly cesspools of disease, and avoided at all costs. Believe it or not, New Yorkers could soon be flocking to them — by choice — because Google is considering turning pay phones into WiFi hotspots. And Google's not the only company who's interested in the project; it was one of more than 50 that attended an informational meeting in May to gauge formal interest. Companies were expected to submit final proposals by Monday.

New York's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), which is managing the project, wrote on its site:

The role of public pay telephones has changed dramatically over the last ten years. The widespread adoption of mobile devices reduces the overall need for public telephones, yet not everyone owns a mobile phone, and not everyone who owns one has connectivity at all times.... DoITT is currently exploring the future of the public pay telephone and potential alternative or additional forms of telecommunications facilities on NYC sidewalks, such as wireless access.

The pay phone initiative was introduced last year by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and now Mayor Bill de Blasio is following through on the project. Mayor de Blasio announced the request for proposals (RFP) in May:

This administration has committed to making New York City work better for every community, and this [request for proposals] for free outdoor Wi-Fi is a down payment on that promise.... For years, the question was, 'What to do with payphones?' and now we have an answer. 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.

It appears that the city is looking for one firm to spearhead and operate the entire program, which aims to transform the city's 9,670 public pay phones into WiFi stations. Other companies who attended the meeting include Cisco Systems, IBM, and Samsung, who could all be vying, along with Google, for the job.

Repurposing Is Always a Good Idea

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Instead of scrapping all those graffiti- and gum-covered booths and turning them into more waste that the planet doesn't need, repurposing them into something actually useful is a win-win situation for the environment and the citizens of New York City.

Crappy Service Be Damned

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There's nothing worse than getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood and not being able to access Google Maps because you only have one bar. If you routinely lose reception in certain pockets around the city, then having 9,670 WiFi kiosks across all five boroughs is going to make your life a lot easier.

It's Free

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When is free anything not a good idea? Especially when it's something as universally useful as WiFi. But that's not all — in addition to offering free Internet, the city wants to allow users to sign in once at one station and then be able to seamlessly use the WiFi at every other station as they move around the city.

The Pay Phones Will Also Be ... Pay Phones

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Perhaps the best part of all of this is that the pay phones will still retain its original function. Although companies will be able to charge for making phone calls, 3/11 and 9/11 calls will be free. It's unclear at this time how much each call will be, and whether or not the phones will still have coin slots.

So far, there has also been no word on how the new WiFi/pay phone kiosks will be more sanitary — because that might be the biggest challenge to get New Yorkers to go near pay phones again.

Images: Getty