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Smart Screens Coming to NYC Phone Booths

City to offer free, multilingual access to neighborhood information via upgraded pay phone terminals.

by / April 9, 2012
A mockup of the Internet-connected touchscreens that will be appearing in New York City phone booths. Image courtesy of City24x7.

[A mockup of the Internet-connected touchscreens that will be appearing in New York City phone booths. Image courtesy of City24x7.]

Some New York City phone booths will soon offer a lot more than the chance to make a phone call. In a pilot program that launches in May, as many as 250 phone booths located throughout the city will get a major upgrade. Internet-connected touchscreens will feature neighborhood specific restaurant listings, retail promotions, tourist attractions and traffic updates. Smart screen users also will have online access to New York City’s 311 complaint and information line, safety alerts and city promoted event announcements.

According to Nicholas Sbordone, spokesman for the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the limited launch of tablet booths will focus on phone booths that currently feature two telephones. One phone in each booth will be replaced by a smart screen. The city’s nearly 13,000 outdoor pay phones currently generate about $18 million in annual revenue, according to a recent article in the New York Post.

Ads to Generate Profit Following Pilot Program

The 32-inch screens will be installed by vendor City24x7 at no cost to taxpayers. When the pilot concludes, on-screen advertising will begin generating revenue for city coffers. New York City will receive 36 percent of the monies generated by on-screen advertising, the same percentage now received from payphone terminal advertising.

With the current contract for all New York City public payphones expiring in October 2014, the city is contemplating a broader rollout of the smart screen booths in the future.

“While any final determinations are still some time off, we’ll soon begin seeking public input about what New Yorkers would like to see the payphone of the future entail,” said Sbordone in an email to Government Technology. “We view the City24x7 pilot program as an innovative, engaging way to help inform those efforts.”

The smart screen monitors reportedly are highly durable, dustproof and waterproof, and can withstand cleaning from high-pressure jet hoses.

Skype, Email Access to Come

Several future enhancements to the smart screen booths are already being discussed, such as adding access to Skype and email accounts. The tablet booths also may eventually be turned into Wi-Fi hotspots, offering free connectivity for personally owned devices.

Tech pilots are planned for Manhattan taxicabs as well. The Taxi and Limousine Commission is looking for a new app that lets patrons pay cab fares with their smartphone. Back seat televisions are also being replaced by tablet computers in some taxis to ease credit card payment processing.

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Noelle Knell Editor

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.

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