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Wi-Fi hotspots to revive NYC payphones

Doug Gross, CNN
A pilot program will turn 10 New York City payphone kiosks into wireless hotspots, with more to follow.
A pilot program will turn 10 New York City payphone kiosks into wireless hotspots, with more to follow.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ten New York City payphone kiosks have been turned into Wi-Fi hotspots
  • More locations are expected to be added in coming months
  • The city and AT&T are working to put free Wi-Fi in 20 parks throughout NYC

(CNN) -- Remember payphones? This might sound crazy, but if New York City has its way, people might actually start using them again to communicate with each other.

The city announced Thursday that it has created Wi-Fi hotspots at 10 payphone kiosks in three of the city's boroughs. It's the first step in a pilot program designed to make wireless access available to as many people as possible in the city.

The kiosks (seven in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn and one in Queens) have antennas that create Wi-Fi hotspots providing free wireless service up to 300 feet away. More will be added in the coming months, according to the blog post announcing the program.

In an era when it seems like everyone has a phone, smart or dumb, in their pocket, payphones may seem like just another technological dinosaur that the mobile age has relegated to the digital trash heap alongside pagers, beepers and busy signals.

But they're not gone entirely. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 payphone kiosks in New York, a city of roughly 8.2 million people.

The announcement was receiving high marks from tech bloggers Friday.

"I think it's a good start for reusing payphones, which serve less and less need in our mobile-centric world," Ryan Kim wrote for tech blog GigaOm. "And it speaks to our addiction to Wi-Fi and data, which is now even more popular than cellular."

Kim noted that more public Wi-Fi could lessen congestion on busy cellular networks in big, tech-savvy cities like New York and San Francisco, where chasing down those elusive 3G (or 4G) bars can be a frustrating experience.

"I can't recall the last time I've used a payphone but I'll be glad to see them around if it means more free Wi-Fi," he wrote.

Expanding Wi-Fi service in New York has been a priority for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has partnered with AT&T on a five-year project to provide free Wi-Fi at 26 locations in 20 parks throughout the city.

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