Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New York City Seeks to Replace Payphones with Free WiFi

New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) has issued a request for proposals to build a citywide network of free WiFi hotspots. The public communication points will provide free calls to the emergency number 911 and the city information number 311. The winner will install, operate and maintain up to 10,000 public communication points distributed across the city’s five boroughs. These structures will replace and supplement the roughly 7,300 current public payphone installations. The hotspots must be set up within the next four years and will be funded mainly through digital advertising. The plan is projected to bring in US $17.5 million in guaranteed annual revenue for the City of New York through June 2026.

In terms of usage patterns and functionality, WiFi hotspots are the natural successor to the old-fashioned public phone, so this plan makes sense on that level. What is interesting here, though, is that they will be funded through advertising, unlike payphones, which are funded by direct payment from the user. The City of New York is taking a page from the public WiFi solutions being offered to commercial establishments such as malls and restaurants, which are ad-funded. Of course free access to 911 is a public good. Beyond that, though, it remains to be seen whether the city will allow data sharing to benefit businesses that want to target potential customers based on their usage patterns.

The above item appeared in a recent issue of Tarifica's "The Story of The Week", a weekly report that analyzes two noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. For past issues or to learn more about The Story of The Week :

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