You may be accustomed to walking by your typical pay phone these days with a look of disgust, as graffiti covered walls are often accompanied by a mysterious odor. Google, along with 50 other companies, is interested in bringing pay phones to the forefront of the digital world, bidding on a plan to turn the approximately 7,000 NYC pay phones into high-speed WiFi hotspots.
The project, led by the New York Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications involves creating new structures offering free wireless and phone services for pay phones in all five of NYC’s boroughs. Rather than divide the pay phones by neighborhood or location, the city is looking for a single firm to run the entire system. Other interested parties vying for this opportunity include Samsung, Cisco, Time Warner Cable and IBM. It is speculated a decision will be made by year’s end.
Why is Google an ideal candidate? The massive search company is already offering its high bandwidth fiber service in Kansas City, Provo and Austin, and according to their website, looking to expand the service to 34 cities in 9 metro areas.
A little less than half of the pay phones carry advertising, providing a big opportunity for the winner of the bidding war to share ad revenue with the city. New York expects to pay whomever wins the proposal a minimum compensation of $17.5 billion, or half of gross revenues, whichever is greater.
The new kiosks should be considered basic infrastructure for the city and built with top-notch equipment. They should be a home of high-speed connectivity, for tourists and New Yorkers alike. Along with WiFi, they will include phone service and the ability to make free 311 and 911 calls.
Because WiFi uses radio waves and pay phones are connected to communication lines and power, the possibility of this new use is perfectly feasible. Some may even beg the question, why hasn’t the city thought of this before? However, unless these new structures are connected to open fiber lines, it’s likely consumers will suffer the same problems often faced using WiFi in NYC parks, such as slow downloads and spotty service.