Pay phones are being replaced by Wi-Fi access points in LinkNYC project

An ambitious project to bring super high-speed public Wi-Fi to all five boroughs of New York City envisions replacing some 10,000 antiquated phone booths with so-called Links.

The LinkNYC project, which has the full endorsement of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, is backed by an investment group comprising Sidewalk Labs (a Google-funded startup), Intersection (a merger of Control Group and Titan), chipmaker Qualcomm, Comark and Antenna, according to Bloomberg Business.

The project is meant to bridge the “digital divide,” while boosting public safety and job creation. Each of the Links will host paid advertising, which could bring in an estimated $500 million in public revenue over the next 12 years.

When announcing the project in November, de Blasio said providing high-quality Internet access is “essential for everything we need to do to be a fair and just city, because we can’t continue to have a digital divide that holds back so many of our citizens. With this proposal for the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world – accessible to and free for all New Yorkers and visitors alike – we’re taking a critical step toward a more equal, open and connected city – for every New Yorker, in every borough.”

The Links will provide 24/7 Internet access, free phone calls anywhere in the country, a touchscreen interface to access city services, charging for mobile devices and the digital ad displays.

According to LinkNYC materials, the Wi-Fi speed will be “more than 100 times faster than average municipal Wi-Fi,” and more than 20 times faster than the average home Internet service in New York City. For example, downloading a two-hour HD movie can take as little as 30 seconds.

Many public Wi-Fi network operators have been plagued by finding a route to monetization of the (usually free) service.

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Via RCR Wireless