Merchant Innovation

NYC Wi-Fi Hubs Put Free Internet On Most Corners

The phone booths of New York City — or at least the spaces they presently occupy — might have a future after all: as free Wi-Fi hubs.

There is currently a plan in the works to create a structure, called a “Link,” that will supply free wireless Internet connectivity to anyone within 150 feet. David Etherington, chief strategy officer of the municipal advertising firm Titan, tells CNET that eventually as many as 10,000 Links will be installed in place of unused phone booths across all five boroughs of New York.

Presently, Etherington told the outlet, 3.5 million people in the city do not have access to broadband Internet — and a notable majority of them live in poorer neighborhoods. That inequality in digital access is a driving force behind the project known as LinkNYC.

“Stories of kids sitting on library stoops late at night struggling to get homework done with spotty Wi-Fi is an example of what the digital divide can do, and a problem LinkNYC aims to solve,” Etherington remarked to CNET.

Approved by NYC leadership in December 2014 and given a budget of $200 million, LinkNYC — in which Titan (which holds the largest contract in New York for maintaining and advertising on payphones) is joined by Qualcomm (dealing with the connection technology), Comark (making the Wi-Fi kiosks), and strategy firm Control Group — is currently on schedule to roll out 500 Links by summer 2016, with another 7,000 to be installed over the ensuing four years.

As CNET points out, the successful implementation of LinkNYC would make it the largest and fastest public Wi-Fi network in the world — boasting speeds of up to one gigabit per second, about 100 times the average for public Wi-Fi. Etherington told the outlet that each 9.5-foot-tall Link structure will be able to connect up to 500 people to the Internet at once.

“It will start to change people’s expectations around Wi-Fi if you can pop out for a pint of milk and download the Hobbit trilogy in a minute,” he commented in the story. “It’s probably going to change your perceptions about what Wi-Fi is all about.”

The CNET story goes on to say that, over the next 12 years, advertising revenue will be used to fund the entirety of the LinkNYC project, making it a self-sustaining business model.

As far as privacy concerns go, the policy created by Minerva Tantoco, chief technology officer of New York City, and her team will, according to CNET, make LinkNYC stand alone worldwide as the only free public Wi-Fi to mandate end-to-end encryption at its level.

“In addition to privacy protections, LinkNYC will also be among the most secure Wi-Fi networks available,” Nicholas Sbordone, a spokesman for New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, told CNET. “It will be one of the first public encrypted networks — so the act of listening to unencrypted wireless traffic will be eliminated.”

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