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NYC is looking to transform old phone booths into Wi-Fi hot spots


Pay phones — once so vital, and now just a place for weird bacteria to grow — might be useful once again in New York City, if Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way.

On Thursday, de Blasio announced that the city has issued a request for proposals to create internet hot spots out of old pay phone booths, in a bid to bring free Wi-Fi to Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island. This isn't the first time NYC has contemplated turning telephone booths into hot spots, TIME reminds us; Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a pilot project that fizzled out.

"For years, the question was, 'What to do with pay phones?' and now we have an answer," de Blasio said in a statement. "By using a historic part of New York's street fabric, we can significantly enhance public availability of increasingly vital broadband access, invite new and innovative digital services, and increase revenue to the city — all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers."

Right now, 84 percent of pay phone kiosks are controlled by three companies, but their contracts are set to expire this year. De Blasio would like new contracts to be issued for "the installation, operation, and maintenance of up to 10,000 public communication points distributed across the five boroughs." The new and improved booths would not only provide Wi-Fi, but also contain free cell phone charging stations and interactive touch screens with information on local attractions. The city says that the new franchise would produce $17.5 million in annual revenue by the end of June 2026, with potential franchisees including Verizon Wireless and AT&T.