July 11, 2012 — -- New York City is committed to making sure the 12,000 phone booths still lining its sidewalks don't become relics.
While the city announced plans to turn some of them into digital kiosks with SmartScreens in April, today it launched a pilot program to provide free public WiFi at public phone booths around the five boroughs.
The first ten booths were lit up today with WiFi routers that are attached the top of existing phone booths. A map of the WiFi-equipped booths can be found here. There are six booths in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, and one in Queens for the time being. Additional locations, including ones in the Bronx and Staten Island, will be added soon.
The city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) has worked with Van Wagner and Titan, the advertising companies that work to provide the ads on the booths, to provide the service. Those companies have absorbed the cost of the project, including installation, management, and customer service; there is no additional cost to the city or to the public.
And wireless capabilities won't replace the actual pay phones.
"We are not trying to replace the pay phone with something else," Rhaul N. Merchant, Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer, said at the unveiling of the new booth on 58th Street and Broadway. "We want to see what else our citizens want in a pay phone."
The wireless signal of the pay phone booths will span an 100 to 200 foot radius and the network will appear as "Free WiFi" or "NYC Free Public WiFi" on phones, laptops, tablets, and other WiFi devices. The network isn't password protected, but when you launch your browser, you will be required to agree to terms and conditions before surfing the web.
"The city and the partners have taken all security measures and we will continue to make sure it the best possible experience for new Yorkers who are signing on to the WiFi," Rachel Sterne, New York's Chief Digital Officer, assured ABC News. Users can visit any site on the internet and there is no limit on usage.
No personal information will be gathered from people's devices, and no advertising will appear during the pilot program, Sterne said.