Google Mulls Transforming NYC Pay Phones Into Wi-Fi Hot Spots

Jul 21, 2014 12:02 am ET

July 21 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. is among several technology companies considering a plan that uses pay-phone locations to give New Yorkers free wireless Internet access.

The Mountain View, California-based company was among more than 50 attendees at an informational meeting in May for the project, according to a request for proposals from the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. Cisco Systems Inc., International Business Machines Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. also attended. Bids for the proposal are due today.

The No. 1 search provider is stepping up efforts to provide digital access in the U.S. and around the world as it seeks to get more consumers on the Internet, benefiting its own user and ad services. The company, which is working toward rolling out broadband services in several U.S. cities, already provides wireless access in Mountain View and New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, where it has an office.

Kelly Mason, a spokeswoman for Google, declined to comment.

The project calls for new designs to replace pay phones, providing “advertising, Wi-Fi and phone services” in all five boroughs. While the companies can charge for phone service, except for 911 and 311 calls, they can’t charge a fee for Internet access, a document said. There are more than 7,300 pay phones in the city.

“The widespread adoption of mobile devices reduces the overall need for public telephones, yet not everyone owns a mobile phone, and not everyone who owns one has connectivity at all times,” a document on the city’s website said regarding the project. The Wi-Fi hot spots will need to work together, enabling users to log in once and stay connected.

The project began in 2012 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is set to be expanded by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.