LinkNYC Aims to Bring Free Wi-Fi to the 5 Boroughs

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With increasing concern from consumers and municipalities about the power of big broadband monopolies, this year has seen several initiatives that would improve broadband access around the U.S. New York is planning to replace its phone booths with free Wi-Fi hotspots to provide high-speed Internet to residents.

The official site for the project lists numerous benefits, including 24/7 Internet access with “up to gigabit speeds,” built-in Android tablets, free nationwide phone calls, a charging station for mobile devices, free Wi-Fi and the ability to make emergency calls. The booths will reportedly be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, featuring braille integration and speakers.

If approved, the project will bring up to 10,000 of these link booths to all five boroughs of NYC. The project has to receive a public hearing and a positive affirmation from the Franchise and Concession Review Committee. If approved, installation will begin in 2015.

Aside from the obvious barrier that is approval, some questions have been raised about the ability of LinkNYC to deliver on its claims. Co-founder of the Verge Ross Miller and contributor Dan Siefert note that “LinkNYC’s claims of gigabit speeds from a Wi-Fi network do raise a few questions, mainly because commonly used Wi-Fi networks today don’t yet support sustained gigabit connections from individual devices.”

They add that details are murky: “The fact sheet for the company’s plan doesn’t detail what Wi-Fi standard will be used in the stations, or if Link plans to use a new technology that hasn’t yet been deployed.”

Questions about efficacy and future updates aside, this is a very important move. The service will apparently be funded by advertising on the booths themselves, so it’s not truly a municipal system. Still, that doesn’t stop it from being a distributed service that sounds a lot less monopolistic.

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