Wi-Fi hubs to replace New York pay phones

A woman uses her cell phone while leaning on a public phone booth in New York. Thousands of high-tech terminals offering free Wi-Fi and other services will soon replace the city's remaining fleet of seldom-used pay phones. -- PHOTO: AFP 
A woman uses her cell phone while leaning on a public phone booth in New York. Thousands of high-tech terminals offering free Wi-Fi and other services will soon replace the city's remaining fleet of seldom-used pay phones. -- PHOTO: AFP 

NEW YORK (AFP) - Thousands of high-tech terminals offering free Wi-Fi and other services will soon replace New York's remaining fleet of seldom-used pay phones, the city mayor said on Monday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the "LinkNYC" system "the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world".

Up to 10,000 terminals will provide free Internet access up to 45 metres from hubs, which will be phased in across the city's five boroughs beginning in 2015.

Free domestic phone calls can also be made from the stations, which feature a touch-screen interface, a cellphone and tablet charging station, and provide access to emergency services.

Mr De Blasio said the CityBridge technology group was chosen to carry out the project. It requires approval by a city committee next month.

Digital advertising displays will finance the project "at no cost to taxpayers", he said, adding that the hubs are expected to generate more than US$500 million (S$649 million) over the course of their first 12 years and create 100 to 150 jobs.

"We're taking a critical step toward a more equal, open and connected city - for every New Yorker, in every borough," Mr de Blasio said.

Wi-Fi is already available in dozens of New York parks, as well as a small part of the Chelsea neighbourhood. Chelsea was part of an initiative by US technology giant Google.

In September 2013, then mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the creation of wireless corridors in parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island as well as a Wi-Fi extension in parts of Manhattan, including Harlem.