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Google wants to turn NYC’s archaic pay-phone kiosks into useful Wi-Fi hotspots

Google has expressed an interest in turning New York City’s public pay-phone kiosks into free Wi-Fi hotspots, it emerged Monday, with the Web giant joining other tech firms at a recent meeting organized by the city’s Department of Information of Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) geared toward exploring the viability of such a plan.

The idea of turning near-obsolete pay-phone kiosks into a useful facility for the connected community was suggested by Mayor Bloomberg in 2012. Two years on and Bloomberg’s successor Bill de Blasio is breathing new life into the project, in May holding a meeting attended by more than 50 companies — including Samsung, IBM, Cisco, and Google, among others — to explore the plan further and invite proposals.

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Those proposals were due in Monday, though it’s not known at this stage which companies have submitted ideas.

The large number of big-name attendees indicates the depth of interest in the project, which presents a range of opportunities for the company chosen to implement its plan.

There are currently around 7,300 public pay-phone kiosks located throughout New York City’s five boroughs, with over half including advertising. Millions of dollars generated annually from those ads would be shared between the city and the company behind the winning bid, officials said.

The city is hoping to see the implementation of 24/7 Wi-Fi hotspots that would provide free Internet access at ad-displaying sites, each with a Wi-Fi range of around 26 meters (85 feet).

Besides retaining the ability to make calls from the kiosks, the DoITT said it would like to see proposals that build other services into the sites, including free local calls, text messaging capabilities, mobile device charging stations, touchscreens that offer local information or facilitate business transactions, and sensors to monitor the immediate environment — an area in which Google has recent experience.

Should Google submit a bid and have it chosen by the DoITT, it would form part of its wider efforts to provide fast and reliable Internet access to communities both in the US and internationally. Besides Project Loon, which aims to bring the Internet to isolated communities around the world via high-flying balloons, the Mountain View company is also continuing with Google Fiber, a project focusing on the provision of ultra-high-speed Internet that currently involves several cities in the U.S.

New York City’s pay-phone kiosks are currently operated by 10 companies through a franchise agreement with the DoITT. This, however, ends in October, motivating city officials to seek out the best way to modernize the facilities.

[via Bloomberg]

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