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Outdated Infrastructure Gets New, Digital Life

Major U.S. cities are finding digital uses for physical assets many thought had outlived their useful life.

Ideas are starting to materialize for New York City's Reinvent Payphones initiative, a city-backed effort to inject new life into the 11,000 payphones located throughout the city.

According to techPresident, one promising concept comes from students in NYU's Interactive Telecommunication Program. Called "Street Beacon", the proposal suggests allowing people to call individual payphones, via the Internet, to access information on the noise levels and air quality of that neighborhood. Citizens on foot could also consult a touchscreen display at the payphone location to access the same information.

Broadly used in times of compromised cell service, like during Hurricane Sandy, New York City wants to find new ways to repurpose the phones that are more in line with the needs of a modern citizenry. Other payphone pilots now in progress in the Big Apple include equipping the units with free Wi-Fi and touchscreens armed with neighborhood information and targeted advertising.

As reported last month in Government Technology, Boston faces a similar issue with its 2,200 fire alarm boxes. Officials are looking for ideas on how to modernize the outdated one-way communication system with a solution that reduces false alarms and provides better service to Bostonians. In an attempt to encourage a range of creative ideas, CIO Bill Oates said the city's Request for Information (RFI) was intentionally worded as broadly as possible.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Justin Brown told techPresident that the city would entertain ideas for digital kiosks, wireless hotspots, various sensing or monitoring technologies, public messaging and more. Responses to Boston's RFI are due Feb. 22.

And Chicago is crowdsourcing ideas to help improve Internet connectivity through a variety of methods -- free public Wi-Fi, expanded broadband in poorer areas and high-speed fiber connections into the city -- in its Broadband Challenge. The Windy City's industrial infrastructure may prove critical to the effort.

CTO John Tolva explained that running under the central business district in Chicago is a system of tunnels that used to carry freight trains. Why not use the now defunct rail network to run fiber optic cable?

"Sixty percent of the cost of laying fiber is ripping up the street and paying to repave it," Tolva said, adding that city officials are also exploring the use of alleyways and sewers to minimize the cost and disruption of tearing up streets.

For the full article, visit techPresident (membership required to view full article).

Photo from Shutterstock

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter. Follow @GovTechNoelle
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