For a large segment of society, payphones are an obsolete technology. Superman probably can’t even find a phone booth to change in anymore.

But New York City has found a new way to make payphones usable again for the public – by making them into Wi-Fi hot spots.

A pilot program announced Wednesday will provide free-to-use, no limit Wi-Fi access from existing payphone locations across the city’s five boroughs so citizens can connect their mobile devices. Payphone Wi-Fi access points are currently available in 10 locations throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Additional locations in the Bronx and Staten Island are planned for the coming months, according to the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT).

“As we begin assessing the future of the payphone in New York City, this pilot should help us gauge public interest in the amenities the next generation of devices might offer,” said NYC’s Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul Merchant, in a statement.

According to a tweet by Rachel Sterne, the city’s chief digital officer, each of the payphone Wi-Fi hot spots will cover a 100- to 200-foot radius. Many of the payphones are located near pedestrian plazas for more convenient public access.


Photo: New York City Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne announces new project that will turn payphones into Wi-Fi hot spots.


DoITT is working with telecommunications companies Van Wagner and Titan on the project.

Where Are the Payphones?

View New York City Wi-Fi Hot Spots at Pay Phones in a larger map

Several Projects

The hot spot project joins of growing number of new projects unveiled by the New York City government. Earlier this year, the city announced a separate pilot program upgrading 250 payphones with touchscreen technology that show community information such as restaurant listings, retail promotions and traffic updates.

In February, the New York City Housing Authority launched a Digital Van program that puts vehicles equipped with laptops and Wi-Fi access out into the community to better reach people who don’t have those resources.

Conversation starter: Should payphones be transformed into Wi-Fi hot spots? What else could serve as a Wi-Fi access point?

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.