Brooklyn Boro

LinkNYC Wi-Fi network, replacing pay phones, coming to Brooklyn soon

Flatbush Avenue will be first in borough to get Kiosks

February 19, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio tries out the new LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosk on Third Avenue in Manhattan on Thursday. Joining him are DoITT Commissioner Anne Roest, Scott Goldsmith of Intersection and a press scrum. Photo: Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the world’s first telephone call to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, who was working in the next room of his lab in Boston.

“Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you,” Bell said.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, surrounded by a tech-savvy crowd, made the city’s first official phone call from a new communications network which will be replacing more than 7,500 pay phones across the five boroughs.

It’s called LinkNYC, and its tall, narrow kiosks are called Links.

Using a Link on Third Avenue in Manhattan, the mayor called 311. (There’s no word yet on what he told them.)

“LinkNYC is the Wi-Fi network New Yorkers deserve: the largest, fastest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world – and you won’t need to insert a quarter in the slot, because it’s completely free,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Links enable people to place free phone calls, browse the web on their own device (or using the built-in Android tablet) — at up to 1 Gigabit speeds, on some of the units — recharge a device like a cell phone, contact emergency services (there’s a red 911 button) and access Google Maps. The Wi-Fi signal works within a 150-foot radius.

So far, 40 Links have been installed along Third Avenue, and 16 of these have been activated. But additional Links are being installed and activated on a rolling basis, the city says, with more than 500 kiosks in all five boroughs by the end of July. The system requires the installation of high-speed fiber optic cables along “corridors” through the city.

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One of the first areas to see the Links will be Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, according to a city release. (Other initial areas include St. George in Staten Island; Jamaica, Queens and the South Bronx.)

“I look forward to continued work on key facets of the LinkNYC rollout, including community input on the siting of Wi-Fi kiosks and the investment of revenue into digital infrastructure improvements, that I have been committed to advancing through my role on our City’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a statement.

According to Stefan Ringel, spokesperson for BP Adams, Brooklyn neighborhoods being looked at for the initial rollout include Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, East Flatbush, Ocean Hill, East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Installations will begin near the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter, he told the Brooklyn Eagle.

There should be roughly 60 Links installed in Brooklyn by the end of July, Ringel added.

“The eventual goal [is] to ultimately blanket New York with uninterrupted, free Wi-Fi,” Link says on Twitter.

Two versions, two speeds

Two versions of Links are being installed – the lightning fast 1 gigabit version, which is ad-supported, and a slower, non-ad-supported (100 megabit) version.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office told the Brooklyn Eagle in December 2014, after negotiations with the City Council, that 586 of the fast 1 gigabit kiosks will be installed in Brooklyn by the end of year four.

The Bronx will receive 481 of the 1 gigabit kiosks, Queens will get 675, and Staten Island will receive 33. Manhattan will still receive the lion’s share, with 2,195 1 gigabit kiosks planned, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The kiosks will generate more than $500 million in ad revenue for the city, according to the Mayor’s Office.

“Part of the agreement with the city is to use the revenue to build out cyber connectivity in underserved areas,” Ringel said.

De Blasio says that the free Wi-Fi will especially benefit low-income New Yorkers.

“We know that low income New Yorkers, particularly African American and Latino residents, rely on their smartphones to get online. And now New Yorkers can reduce some of that broadband bill, no matter their zip code, at no cost to taxpayers, as LinkNYC kiosks begin to roll out over the city,” he said.

Each Link will have at least 24 hours of back-up battery power to enable 911 calling capability in the event of the loss of commercial power.

Privacy?

In November 2014, the administration announced the selection of CityBridge – a consortium of companies that includes Intersection (a Google-related company), Qualcomm, and CIVIQ Smartscapes – to develop and operate the LinkNYC network.

LinkNYC says on its website that its ad-supported models will provide a “groundbreaking digital OOH [Out-of-Home] advertising network [and provide] brands with a rich, context-aware platform to reach New Yorkers and visitors.”

Context-aware advertising takes into account the installation’s geographic location, viewer demographics and other factors, and dynamically changes the advertising to fit the audience.

How precise is the technology? The Gimbal platform, developed by Qualcomm, a member of the consortium, provides hints of its possible reach. (Gimbal spun off from Qualcomm in 2014.)

Gimbal uses beacons to allow advertisers to determine the precise location of users from 50 meters down to inches, according to the company’s website. A technique called Geofencing allows advertisers to deliver real-time messages to those within a particular fence. Gimbal can deliver personalized mobile content based on this information as well, if users opt in.

The use of beacon technology has proven controversial. In October 2014, BuzzFeed broke the news that original LinkNYC consortium member Titan (now part of Intersection) had hidden about 500 transmitters in Manhattan phone booths that were tracking smartphone users’ every move.

Hours after the report, Mayor de Blasio ordered the company to remove the trackers.

LinkNYC says there’s no need to worry about privacy and security. Users can modify their privacy settings at any time, or opt out altogether, they say, and any data collected is anonymous and aggregated.

LinkNYC will offer an encrypted network for HotSpot 2.0-enabled devices (only available on Apple iOS right now). Other users will access the web through public Wi-Fi using typical SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption. The de Blasio Administration and CityBridge have also created a “customer-first privacy policy,” they say, that ensures personal information is never shared or sold for third party use.

Customers must provide their email to connect to the Wi-Fi. LinkNYC says they will never sell this information.

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