New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is fielding proposals to transform the city’s largely forgotten phone booths into Wi-Fi hot spots, an ambitious project that would create one of the largest public Wi-Fi networks in the country.
The team with the winning proposal will be charged with the installation, operation and maintenance of up to 10,000 hot spots distributed across the five boroughs, according to a statement released Thursday by the mayor’s office.
"By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric, we can significantly enhance public availability of increasingly vital broadband access, invite new and innovative digital services, and increase revenue to the city — all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers,” de Blasio said in the release.
The program is expected to bring in $17.5 million in annual revenue for the city and would be funded primarily through the sale of digital advertising.
In addition to publicly accessible Wi-Fi, the hot spots will provide other services including cellphone charging stations, interactive touch screens that provide local information or facilitate business transactions and a means for disseminating emergency notifications, the statement read.
Along with providing Internet access to millions of New Yorkers and tourists, the program is also expected to create new jobs for the development, servicing and maintenance of the hot spots.
Dana Spiegel, executive director of nonprofit NYCwireless, a Wi-Fi advocacy group, told Al Jazeera that his organization is excited about the plan. "This is something we've been pushing for in the city for over a decade, and we’re really happy to hear this is a serious item on de Blasio’s agenda."
Spiegel cautioned that appropriate end-user protections in terms of security should be considered when developing the program. "We support the plan as long as there won’t be any questionable tracking of people’s movements in what has become a popular marketing trend these days."
The city expects to award the contract in late 2014, with the network launching no later than four years afterward.
The project is a continuation of a pilot program begun by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Under his term, a limited number of pay phones were converted to touch-screen kiosks and Wi-Fi was introduced to select subway stations.
New York City also offers free Wi-Fi in libraries and public parks.