Press Release

July 11, 2012
No. 001


Pilot Program Will Expand to Include Locations in All Five Boroughs at No Taxpayer Cost

City Also Soliciting Feedback on Future of Payphones through RFI Released Today

Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul N. Merchant, Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne, Council Member Gale A. Brewer, Van Wagner Communications Senior Operations Executive Peter Izzo, and Titan Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Scott E. Goldsmith today announced a pilot program to provide free public WiFi at public pay telephone installations across the five boroughs. New Yorkers and visitors are now able to connect free-of-charge using their smartphones, tablets, and other WiFi-enabled devices. Access is currently available at 10 locations, with additional hotspots to follow in the coming months. In conjunction with this announcement, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) also released a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit feedback from the public about the long-term future of City-regulated public pay telephones. The event was held this morning at one of the Manhattan pilot locations – a payphone installation adjacent to the West 58th Street and Broadway pedestrian plaza.

“Expanding public access to broadband technology across the five boroughs, be it wired or wireless, is at the heart of the Bloomberg Administration’s efforts to promote greater digital inclusion for New Yorkers,” said Chief Information and Innovation Officer Merchant. “Today’s announcement does just that, while also allowing us to enhance existing telecommunications infrastructure – public payphones – in an innovative way. As we begin assessing the future of the payphone in New York City, this pilot should help us gauge public interest in the amenities the next generation of devices might offer.”

“One of the most frequent requests from New Yorkers is for more public WiFi in public spaces,” said Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne. “Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, today the City provides free WiFi access in a wide range of public spaces, including every library branch and more than 40 parks across the five boroughs. With this exciting WiFi pilot of New York City payphone kiosks, we are proud to take another step to connect more New Yorkers.”

“I am pleased to be here today to celebrate the release of the RFI that will solicit community feedback on the future of payphones on the streets of New York City,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “I know that members of Community Boards in particular will want to weigh in on how a payphone franchise agreement will make sense for every neighborhood in the five boroughs. Finally, all of us can learn from the pilot program also being launched today that is providing free WiFi to the public using existing city infrastructure. I look forward to working with DoITT, telecom companies such as Van Wagner and Titan, as well as the public on this important issue.”

“Van Wagner is happy to participate in providing WiFi access to the residents and visitors of our great city,” said Peter Izzo, Van Wagner Communications Senior Operations Executive. “This is just the first step in developing additional products that will leverage our robust infrastructure. When you bring limitless bandwidth and commercial electric power to thousands of city street corners, the possibilities are endless. We anticipate working with DoITT and NYC Digital to continue rolling out services that benefit the public.”

“As one of the largest payphone franchisees in New York City, Titan is excited to participate in this pilot program,” said Scott Goldsmith, Titan Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “And we remain committed to exploring new technologies that help bring additional amenities to New Yorkers and visitors alike.”

As part of the pilot program, free WiFi is now available at the following payphone locations. The expected radius of WiFi service ranges between 100-200 feet from each kiosk where equipment is installed.

Brooklyn Heights-Cobble Hill: 545 Albee Square, 2 Smith Street
Astoria: 30-94 Steinway Street
SoHo: 402 West Broadway
Fur-Flower District: 458 Seventh Avenue
Theater District-Clinton: 28 West 48th Street
Grand Central-United Nations: 410 Madison Avenue
Midtown-Clinton: 1609 Broadway, 1790 Broadway (event location)
Upper West Side: 230 West 95th Street

Additional locations – including those in the Bronx and Staten Island – will be launched shortly. Success of the pilot program will be gauged upon the level of hotspot usage and feedback provided by the public.

Payphone WiFi is available anytime, free-of-charge, and with no limit on usage. To access the service, users need simply to select the “Free WiFi / “NYC Free Public WiFi” option on their devices, accept the terms and conditions, and start browsing. No personal information will be gathered and no advertising will be presented as part of the pilot program. WiFi installation does not affect the operation of the payphones, and each phone remains in compliance with all of the City’s current rules and regulations. Technical assistance is available by contacting 311 – online, by phone, or by text at 311-692.

This morning, DoITT also issued an RFI to foster public feedback in evaluating the future of payphones on New York City sidewalks. These phones exist pursuant to franchise contracts the City entered into with a number of companies – dating back to 1999 – for the installation, maintenance, and operation of public payphones on City sidewalks. These agreements will expire in October 2014. Responses to this RFI, as well as the findings from today’s announced pilot program and other current and planned enhancements, will inform the City’s future efforts.

As the City of New York’s telecommunications agency, DoITT administers the franchise agreements for and regulates public pay telephones installed on the City’s sidewalks, except for those attached to subway stations (which are managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority). There are currently 12,360 DoITT-regulated public pay telephones on the City's sidewalks from 13 companies. Of that total, 5,766 are in Manhattan, 2,530 are in Queens, 2,386 are in Brooklyn, 1,553 are in the Bronx, and 125 are in Staten Island.

Nicholas Sbordone / Lara Torvi (DoITT)                   (212) 788-6602