New York City to Provide Free Wi-Fi Hot Spots in Payphones

New York City releases plans for up to 10,000 free Wi-Fi hot spots.

To modernize its aging payphones, today the city of New York unveiled plans to install an improved network of communication structures that will include free Wi-Fi in addition to phone services that will offer free 911 and 311 calls. The venture is estimated to generate more than $17.5 million in annual city revenue.

The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) unveiled the scope of the project through a Request for Proposals (RFP) and has set a deadline for responses for June 30 at 5 p.m. The city expects to award a contract for the project by the end of 2014.

New York State Chief Digital Officer and Deputy Technology Secretary Rachel Haot congratulated the city on the milestone, via Twitter.

NYC, you made this happen! Exciting to see next steps for public communications inspired by #reinventpayphones: — Rachel S. Haot (@rachelhaot) May 1, 2014

The city anticipates the new network will be one of the most expansive collections of free Wi-Fi hot spots in the U.S., will be a source for service jobs, and will break down barriers preventing online access within New York’s five boroughs. In total, the RFP provides for up to 10,000 communication structures to be installed, which will replace and add to the city’s current inventory of 7,300 payphones.

“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,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in the release.

Far from a spontaneous development, the city described the process as an effort that’s been long planned. It began in 2012 when DoITT issued a Request for Information (RFI) on the future of its outdated payphone infrastructure. A crowdsourced design contest followed in 2013, in which the city reached out to urban designers, planners and technologists for physical and virtual prototypes. Out of roughly 125 submissions and public input, the city crafted the RFP to allow a wide selection of vendor proposals.

New services could include cellphone charging stations, informational touch screens that allow business transactions and analytic capabilities for the city to disseminate emergency notifications and information during city events. A green push has also been emphasized in the RFP. The city is encouraging vendors to submit proposals that harness independent power sources, such as solar energy.

Designs will be evaluated based on functional efficiency, aesthetics, security, durability, environment adaptability and disability accommodation. New York City is also encouraging proposals that support job creation. Specifically, this includes support for job seekers, freelancers, small businesses, the local tech industry and jobs generated from tourism.

While many city officials and stakeholders commended the initiative, the common thread was an emphasis on innovation and adaption to technology’s role in the 21st century.

“We’re very happy to see this administration take such a bold step forward in promoting ubiquitous free Wi-Fi Internet access,” said Dana Spiegel, executive director of NYCwireless, a nonprofit that advocates for free wireless in the city. “If this is any indication of things to come, we’re very excited about the city’s commitment to open, competitive and innovative solutions to bring the Internet to everyone.”

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.
Special Projects
Sponsored Articles