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'Smart screens' to replace pay phones in NYC

New York City will start a pilot program next month replacing old pay phones with Internet-connected touch screens that display information and advertising.

New York City is looking to replace its public pay phones with Internet-connected touch-screen tablets.

The city will start a pilot program next month where it will install 32-inch "smart screens" with broadband Internet connections in 250 old phone booths throughout the city.

The hope is that eventually the city will replace its 12,800 outdoor pay phones with these new tablet-booths, according to a story by the New York Post. The franchise for the public pay phones in the city is expiring in October 2014.

The new touch-screen tablets will be free to access and will generate revenue via local advertising. People will be able to use the kiosks/tablets to get information on local restaurants, nearby stores, tourist attractions, and traffic updates. The booths will also provide access to the city's 311 complaint and information line. And it will offer safety alerts. All of this will be available in multiple languages, the newspaper article said.

City24x7/Screenshot by CNET

Eventually, users will also be able to access popular applications like Skype, which allows people to make phone calls over the Internet. And they'll be able to log on to e-mail accounts from the "smart screen" booths. The city also plans on turning the booths into Wi-Fi hot spots, which will provide wireless Internet access to other devices.

For those worried about the unsanitary nature of sharing such screens with millions of people, City24x7, the franchisee that will install and maintain the new technology, says the new touch screens will be even more sanitary than an ATM. The company said the devices will be dust-proof and waterproof and will be able to be cleaned with a jet hose.

The New York Post article said that the new screens will not cost the city anything. And they could help the city generate revenue in the future. After the pilot program is over and the smart screens are in full production, City24x7 will give the city a 36 percent cut of the ad revenue, the newspaper said. Today the city earns about $18 million annually from pay phones, a city spokeswoman told the newspaper.