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NYC Unveils Free Gigabit Speed Wi-Fi Network

City officials ready to deliver free Wi-Fi services to millions of residents and visitors across New York's five boroughs.

New York City is close to securing final approval for a project that will replace its aging pay phones and provide city residents with free gigabit Wi-Fi.

On Nov. 17, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) announced via a release that the project will substitute the city’s more than 7,300 pay phones with 10,000 communication structures transmitting the Wi-Fi. Additionally the service — delivered in thin billboard-like kiosks — will offer free calls to anywhere in the U.S., free mobile device charging, and a touchscreen connecting users to city services and 911 providers.

The network, formally christened as LinkNYC, is supplied by a variety of tech vendors within the CityBridge consortium, a group specializing in such wireless IT communication systems. DoITT estimates kiosks will generate $500 million from their attached advertising displays over the next 12 years with their revenues taken for the network’s ongoing maintenance and for city use.

“This administration has been committed to expanding affordable access to broadband for all New Yorkers from the outset,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “With this proposal for the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world … we’re taking a critical step toward a more equal, open and connected city for every New Yorker, in every borough.”

While momentum and endorsements indicate a final approval is likely, the details related to the RFP must still be approved by the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee before construction begins. Early predictions eye breaking ground some time in the first quarter of 2015, and once work begins, officials say the network will eventually create 100-150 new jobs in manufacturing, technology and advertising, and an additional 650 jobs for support needs.

Encryption will be installed within the machine to ensure privacy, and the machines will not require password and login information from its users. However, officials still recommended additional end-to-end encryption extension tools like HTTPS when communicating sensitive data.

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Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.