New York City will begin this month replacing thousands of pay phones with free Wi-Fi hot spots. The city expects to have 500 hot spots installed by July, and eventually about 7,500 units will be replaced. The project, called LinkNYC, is being run by the company CityBridge, which is investing more than $200 million. CityBridge says its Wi-Fi will deliver broadband speeds of 1,000 megabits a second, about 100 times typical speeds provided by wireless carriers.
Users won’t be forced to sit through ads on their mobile devices to log on and devices will connect automatically after a user signs in the first time.The hot spots will sit atop a 9.5-foot tall box with electronic screens on each side to display advertising. Sandwiched between the sidewalk ads will be an Android tablet that can be used to place free phone calls and surf the Web.
In the short term, free Wi-Fi might help carriers by taking some strain off their overloaded networks. The city is especially difficult to cover because there are so many skyscrapers.In the long run, however, Wi-Fi poses a more fundamental threat. Cable companies, such as Comcast Corp., have begun installing hundreds of thousands of public access points that their home broadband customers can access free.
New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications hopes the project will make a dent in the digital divide. About 27% of New York households don’t have broadband at home. Many cities have tried installing free public Wi-Fi, but it often didn’t work well enough to draw many users because speeds were slow or the experience was bogged down by requiring users to watch an ad before connecting. (Wall Street Journal)
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