LinkNYC will put more Bronxites on line

A new city initiative to convert moribund pay phones into Internet kiosks has some local entrepreneurs excited with the possibilities.

Once a payphone, later a…Link?
Meet your wi-fi kiosk of the future.

Citywide program will turn underused pay phones into hotspots

A new city plan to replace payphones with Wi-Fi kiosks means more Bronxites are about to get widespread access to free Internet.

Under LinkNYC, the city is planning to introduce 10,000 Internet retrofits out of decommissioned phone booths across the five boroughs, where users will be able to log on.

In addition, the city says it could generate more than $500 million in ad revenue over the next 12 years. According to a recent report from the comptroller’s office, more than one third of Bronx households lack broadband access. City officials say the new plan will help bridge that digital divide.

“It all adds up to this idea that we’re not an outer borough, we’re not forgotten,” said Angie Kamath, executive director of Per Scholas, a technology education non-profit in Port Morris.

Kamath hopes the program will spark business ventures and innovation in the South Bronx on par with opportunities that have emerged in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and DUMBO as a result of technological advances. Per Scholas has partnered with City Bridge — the team of companies behind LinkNYC — to provide students a pathway to technology and support jobs created by the program.

Technicians around the city will have many stations, which will be known as Links, to maintain. City Bridge says it will replace 4,000 existing pay phones with Links in the next four years. In addition, ten stations in the Bronx will operate on solar power as part of a related pilot program.

The new kiosks will broadcast free Wi-Fi within 150 feet at up to gigabit speeds and will allow free calls anywhere in the country. Users will also be able to use the new spaces to charge their cell phones.

“There’s a lot of people who could use this as sort of a leg up to help them in their everyday lives,” said John DeSio, communications director for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. Despite initial concerns about speed being tied to advertising revenue, city officials said at a hearing on Monday that 95 percent of the initial Links will operate at gigabit speeds where underground fiberoptic cables are available. The rest will offer 100-megabit speeds—still much faster than most home connections.

“No matter one’s income level, one’s neighborhood, all New Yorkers can get on this high speed network,” said Maya Wiley, counsel to the mayor. But while many stand to benefit from sidewalk Internet access, many more Internet users will still need access to similar tools at home to compete in the job market and, for the youngest, even to do their homework.

“It’s about connecting each family to the local resources that are in their community,” said Marlin Jenkins, founder of NuLuz Networks, which plans to install free desktop computers with broadband access in low-income apartment buildings. Jenkins expects to start next year with 25 households in El Jardin de Selene in Melrose, before expanding to other areas.

City officials said they support the proposed increase in broadband access, adding that LinkNYC is only one piece of the puzzle. In a written statement, Comptroller Scott Stringer compared the explosion of Internet access with the creation of public transportation 100 years ago that most now take for granted.

“Just as the subways powered New York’s growth in the 20th century, high-speed broadband will drive our City’s economic competitiveness in the 21st century — and we need to make sure all our neighborhoods have the tools to meet that future,” Stringer wrote.

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