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Smaller cities and countries including the Estonian capital of Tallinn and South Korea have had the most success at blanketing their borders with free wireless service. New York City's attempt at free city-wide Wi-Fi will be a well-watched experiment by cities around the world.

New York City, already one of the most connected cities for travelers, took a big step today towards making public networks stronger and better spread throughout the city.

New York City officials are planning to turn 7,300 public payphones into one of the largest free Wi-Fi networks in the country.

New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which issued a Request for Proposals today, wants the structures to provide 24/7 free Wi-Fi as well as free 911 and 311 calls.

There are currently 27 payphone hotspots throughout New York City today that provide free wireless service for up to 200 feet.

City authorities hinted earlier this year that those 27 would soon become thousands as payphone franchisees assessed expanding the pilot program into a long-term reality.

“The release of this RFP is the result of a series of initiatives that imagined the future of the payphone, from piloting Wi-Fi hotspots to gathering ideas through a popular design challenge,” DoITT Commissioner Evan Hines explained in a statmenet.

More Than Wi-Fi

The new payphones may include charging stations and touch screens that provide maps and business information. Officials encourage proposers to power the stations using solar energy or a similar environmentally friendly source of power.

The stations’ look and design may change depend on their neighborhood.

“Designs will be evaluated on the basis of functional efficiency, aesthetics, security, durability, adaptability for various environments around the city—including historic districts and individual landmarks—and accommodation of people with disabilities,” the city’s statement reads.

The city expects to earn $17.5 million in annual revenue by summer 2026 via advertisements and business services.

Current Connectivity

There is currently Wi-Fi available at more than 60 New York City parks; however, access is only free at approximately one-third.

The majority of the parks’ wireless systems is powered by Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, which allow customers to connect for free and others to connect for three free 10-minute sessions a month or for 99 cents a day.

Free Wi-Fi connectivity, available in popular tourist spots like Bryant Park and Union Square, is powered via AT&T and NYC partner organization NYCwireless.

Lessons From Underground Connections

There is also free Wi-Fi currently available in 36 underground subway stations with another 11 on the way this summer.

Transit Wireless, the organization tasked with outfitting the New York City’s 110-year-old subway system with wireless infrastructure, aims to provide free Wi-Fi at all of New York City’s 277 underground subway station by 2016.

But CEO William Bayne says it’s taken 5 years to get its network to where it is today.

Based on Bayne’s experience, we suspect it will be a long process until both New York City locals and visitors can tap into the free city-wide service.

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Tags: nyc, wi-fi

Photo credit: These underused payphones will soon power New York City's city-wide Wi-Fi network. Guian Bolisay / Flickr

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