Old NYC payphones transformed into free Wi-Fi hotspots

The Big Apple decides to make use of those old coin-operated machines by turning them into free public Wi-Fi hotspots.

This old New York City payphone could soon become a Wi-Fi hotspot. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Just when the whole world laughs at those dinosaurian payphones -- marveling at how antiquated we used to be -- New York City has put them to a new innovative use.

The city announced today that it was starting a pilot program transforming those metal relics of yesteryear into free unlimited Wi-Fi kiosks.

Initially, 10 locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens will get the service, and more hotspots will be added in coming months.

Abandoned payphones have been a point of contention for many of the city's residents for a while now. According to a New York news site DNAinfo, 40 percent to 60 percent of the city's more than 13,000 payphones are out of service. And some residents complain that they "serve as magnets for criminal activity, including drug dealing, alcohol consumption, sexual activity, and public urination."

According to GigaOm, the select payphones will provide Wi-Fi service from 300 feet away by using "military grade" antennas. The company that owns many of New York's payphones, Van Wagner Communications, is installing the $2,000 worth of gear for free. As of now, there aren't any ads on the service, but that could change.

Free Wi-Fi service seems to be fast-tracked in New York City. Google Offers and Boingo announced last month that they were rolling out a massive wireless plan throughout the city's subway stations, along with more than 200 above-ground hotspot locations. According to GigaOm, AT&T is providing Wi-Fi in city parks and the city has also installed hotspots in public schools, libraries, and senior centers.

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