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NYC Phone Booths Will Become Free WiFi Kiosks

In all five boroughs

Free WiFi is coming to New York City.

The unused and faintly depressing husks of pay phones around the city will soon be re-animated as WiFi kiosks. 

Called "Links," the kiosks will be fitted with touchscreens and charging stations and will have access to 9-1-1 and 3-1-1, public service announcements and free phone calls to U.S. numbers. The kiosks will also have large digital advertising panels. The ads themselves will pay for the converted tech spaces, meaning the creation of these helpful hubs will be completely free to New Yorkers.

In what is considered a revolutionary and ambitious undertaking, the LinkNYC plan will stretch across all five boroughs and dramatically increase WiFi availability. There will be 10,000 Link stations, with 500 becoming available next year. About 6,400 stations will be made from old phone booths, the unused hardware of which will be auctioned off. Three original phone booths, all on the Upper West Side, will be preserved for nostalgia's sake.

The plan slides into place just after the city's contracts for its pay phones expired in October. Over the past year city officials have listened to ideas for making these miniature pieces of real estate both useful and profitable, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Mayor's office and CityBridge, a group of New York City tech, manufacturing and ad companies, struck a public-private partnership with the development of the Link stations.

Mayor de Blasio cited equality as being an important aspect of the project, explaining that "with this proposal for the fastest and largest municipal WiFi network in the world—accessible to and free for all New Yorkers and visitors alike—we're taking a critical step toward a more equal, open and connected city—for every New Yorker in every borough."

The WiFi at the kiosks will be 20 times faster than the average New Yorker's home Internet service, and will be 100 times faster than average municipal WiFi, according to the LinkNYC media kit. It will also be encrypted, protecting user data from advertisers, though law enforcement will have the right to certain data if deemed necessary.

The ads are expected to generate $500 million in revenue for the city over the next 12 years. The project will also create as many as 150 new full-time jobs, as well as 650 support positions.

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