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NYC approves plan to replace phone booths with Wi-Fi hubs

The proposed Wi-Fi hubs would replace phone booths around the city, including BrooklyNYC.gov

Free Wi-Fi across the five boroughs was given the green light on Wednesday.

The committee responsible for approving contracts with the city signed off on the de Blasio administration's plan to replace 6,400 of the city's outdated pay phones with 24/7 Wi-Fi hubs with free local calling and mobile charging stations.

The $200 million project — named LinkNYC — will be at no cost to taxpayers, city officials repeated, and will instead rely on what is expect to be more than $500 million in advertising revenue through 2026, when the contract expires.

“Every New Yorker stands to gain from this historic result that will make New York City a global leader in free wireless access at superfast speeds,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

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Officials are also keen on concerns about privacy and security. Earlier this year, the agency behind the project, DoITT, calmed worries that beacons discovered in Manhattan phone booths were tracking personal information from peoples’ phones to Titan, the outdoor media company now tasked with leading the Wi-Fi program’s rollout.

Any ads directed at users or data collected, officials said, will only be if the Wi-Fi user already has apps that track their location. No data collected after users log onto the Wi-Fi network would be provided to advertisers.

And while leaders from all corners of the city support the program, a few still have questions about the fair distribution of the hubs — especially in the outer boroughs.

“Reports are surfacing that the outer boroughs may potentially receive less amenities and services compared to Manhattan,” wrote Bronx City Councilman Jimmy Vacca, chair of the council’s technology committee to Metro.

“I intend to use my oversight powers to ensure that LinkNYC rolls out and delivers services equitably to all five boroughs," Vaccaadded.

Construction of the kiosks is expected to begin in early 2015.

 
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