New York City has over 9,000 public pay phones that are slowly decaying. So it’s little wonder that the city wants to find a new purpose for these ubiquitous devices.
The plan so far, is to get a private company to step in and turn the entire fleet of pay phones into free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Free? Yup, free. At least free as in an “advertisement supported” kind of free.
At an informational meeting back in May, attended by 50 tech companies, the issued a request for proposal (RFP) in which it described what it expected from interested parties, specifically: that the refurbished pay phones “offer free outdoor Wi-Fi, while simultaneously still supporting 911 voice calls.”
Today is the deadline for those proposals to be submitted.
It wouldn’t be the first time NYC has flirted with free Wi-Fi.
In 2011, AT&T built out a limited network of free Wi-Fi hotspots located around the city’s park areas, most notably Central Park. But that deal has a five-year term which is rapidly dwindling away.
Will AT&T leverage their incumbent status to grab the free Wi-Fi free-for-all? Perhaps. Or maybe it could go to Google. Google was one of those 50 companies in attendance at that meeting in May.
It would make sense. After all, Google has been very busy with internet access projects, ranging from the super-speedy Google Fiber to the highly experimental use of drones to provide Wi-Fi from the sky. Moreover, Google adores the all-you-can-eat buffet of data that Wi-Fi hotspots are able to furnish.
Remember when they got into hot water over their mapping of private Wi-Fi hotspots during the Google Streetview recon missions? Anything that improves the accuracy of their geo-location data is of high interest to the data scientists in Mountain View. An entire city bathed in free Wi-Fi could be a commercial goldmine for businesses of all stripes looking to develop a better understanding of who is nearby and what they’re currently looking for.
That said, Google was far from the only behemoth to attend the meeting. Other notable names were: Cablevision, Cisco, IBM, Motorola Solutions, Samsung, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. Oddly, the one name that was absent from the list: AT&T.
Any of these companies could easily have a vested interest in pursuing the free Wi-Fi prize, but none appear to have as much of a proven appetite for the spoils it could yield as Google.