If you’re visiting NYC, there’s a good chance you’ll find “LinkNYC” nearby.
NEWS UPDATE – An article in the New York Times on September 14, 2016 reported that New York City was disabling the Internet browsing function on LinkNYC because users were creating encampments around the kiosks. As officials try to find a solution, other functions on LinkNYC will continue to operate.
Travelers on the go depend on being “connected” via smartphones—whether it’s to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B on a map; to make a phone or email reservation at their next hotel; or to find a nearby café, bar or restaurant.
When we travel, we often encounter two frustrating problems:
- Data usage is often so costly that turning on a smartphone when you’re away from home can be prohibitively expensive.
- Also, smartphone batteries drain pretty rapidly during a long day of touring, especially if you have multiple apps running in the background.
With the launch of “LinkNYC” in beta in January 2016, New York City has taken a bold step to make the city more tech-friendly for visitors as well as New Yorkers who want to stay connected.
It may be hard to imagine but even in the Big Apple, approximately 1 out of 4 New Yorkers doesn’t have Internet access.
LinkNYC replaces the old “phone booth”
The city has begun installing a new communications network with more than 180 kiosks called “Links” on street corners in Manhattan and the Bronx. The plan is to eventually expand the beta program (after getting feedback from the public) so there will be more than 7500 Links spread across all the boroughs.
Think about what it was like when phone booths were ubiquitous around the city, almost on every street corner.
6 Ways you can use “LinkNYC”
- Use a free Wi-Fi connection for any device within 150 feet of the Link, although some customers report it working as far away as 400 feet. The Gigabit connection is lightening fast, equivalent to a speed of 1000 megabits. (If you live close enough to a Link, you may not even have to pay for a high-speed connection at home.)
— Andrew Love (@andrewtlove) June 15, 2016
- Browse the web on the touchscreen at the Link.
- Use opt-in GPS location services to access Google Maps for directions.
- Make free phone calls anywhere in the U.S. with Vonage—a speaker is built into the “Link” for this purpose. (International calls can be placed with the use of an international calling card.)
- Plug in a smartphone or other electronic device to one of the two USB ports for a quick re-charge.
- Obtain access to city 311 services (e.g., to find out about alternate street parking rules) in addition to a big red call button for a 911 emergency.
Cost and other concerns
Who is paying for this massive effort to connect New Yorkers, even the disenfranchised homeless population?
All of these “LinkNYC” services are 100% free to users, paid for by advertisers and private sponsors.
Although the slim, contemporary design of the Links don’t take up much valuable sidewalk space, the two high-definition 55” display screens (one at each end) that can be used for public service announcements and/or advertisements. This is expected to offer a distinct advantage over telephone booth ads, which were static.
— LinkNYC (@LinkNYC) June 13, 2016
Some of the “smart advertising” already in place is an affiliation with the realty company Streeteasy so that potential renters can find vacant apartments in the neighborhood close the Link advertisement.
What about privacy/security? The open network relies on web-server SSL security (URLS beginning with https) for privacy. During the beta phase, an alternative private network is limited to certain Apple products (smartphones and tablets) but will be expanded to other devices as the program is rolled out.
Of course there is the potential for “Link Abuse,” intentional or not. At one link in midtown, we witnessed a woman plugged in to the Link, dancing on the street as she listened to music. A Twitter user snapped a picture of another person binge-watching TV at a kiosk (below). Some news outlets report that people living near the Links have complained that audio speaker were initially set too loud.
A peek at some Link users
— M. (@_MLIU) June 12, 2016
All in all, LinkNYC seem like it will be a tremendous asset to locals and visitors alike with the potential for creative uses that haven’t even been anticipated: When we visited the city on Father’s Day weekend, people were invited to send messages on the display screens by tweeting their Dad’s name to the service @LinkNYC.
In the New York Times: Are the Free Kiosks on New York Streets Safe?
To find a nearby link or read more about the new network, go to the LinkNYC website.