New York pay phones undergo transformation to deliver Wi-Fi access

Payphones across New York City are undergoing a big transformation.

The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications launched a pilot program this past summer to install free Wi-Fi stations in 11 locations throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. When the program is completed, users will have instant access to Wi-Fi upon accepting the terms and conditions.

According to DoITT spokesman Nick Sbordone, an increasing demand for free public Wi-Fi prompted DoITT to take action on the idea pitched by its pay phone staff.

Advertising companies Van Wagner Communications and Titan turned the idea into a reality when they partnered with DoITT to place and manage the Wi-Fi-enabled phone booths.

“We wanted to demonstrate to the city and the city’s people that these telephone booths can be purposed for a better cause,” said Peter Izzo, senior operations executive of Van Wagner.

Sbordone also said usage information will not be disclosed to any third parties.

“No personally identifiable information is collected by the providers, nor is it required to access the Wi-Fi,” he said. “The security of pay phone Wi-Fi itself is no different from the security on open public Wi-Fi networks elsewhere,”

Despite the convenience, Stern freshman Jacqueline Ledesma said she would not use the Wi-Fi.

“It’s time-consuming looking for those telephone booths that may offer this service,” Ledesma said. “Connecting to this service sometimes takes time or crashes, and my cell phone bill includes Internet service at all times at a good price.

Bronx resident Cyril Xatse, 25, said he plans to use the service and that the transformation of the phone booths will positively impact its users.

“I will use it because it will enhance my technological skills, as well as aid my capabilities in the use of Information Communication Technology,” Xatse said.

Launched in July, the first month of installation attracted 1,194 users. By August, the number rose to 2,262. If the six-month trial period attracts enough users, more installations may be to come.

“We’d certainly like to see this amenity added to as many pay phones as possible,” Sbordone said. “We want to ensure that every borough has access to the service as part of the pilot.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 6 print edition. Kayana Jean-Philippe is a deputy city/state editor. Email her at kjeanphilippe@nyunews.com. 

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