Councilors Want Boston to Turn Payphones into Wi-Fi Hotspots

One positive aspect of Wi-Fi hotspots across the city would be providing access to those who cannot afford access to the Internet.

New York City recently converted payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots, and City Councilor At-Large Felix Arroyo would like to see the same happen in Boston.

"We're using iPads, tablets, and an increase in Wi-Fi would lessen congestion on phone networks. A key point is for the access to technology, for people who don't have access to the Internet," said Arroyo at Wednesday's meeting. "We already do it with libraries and community centers. We depend more and more on the Internet in our daily lives."

New York recently made 10 payphone kiosks into Wi-Fi hotspots, providing free wireless service up to 300 feet away. 

Arroyo said a neighborhood group, or a private company, such as a local business, would sponsor the hotspot and pay for the Wi-Fi.

Like Arroyo, fellow At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said some of the best ideas come from constituents, which is how Arroyo became aware of New York's program. 

Pressley admitted she isn't the most tech-savvy of individuals — her staff made fun of her for finally using Google Docs in her office. She acknowledged Wi-Fi hotspots could help close technology access gaps. Pressley stated facts provided by the Department of Commerce in 2010:

  • Only 4 out of 10 households with incomes below $25,000 had wired Internet access at home.
  • 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000 had wired Internet access at home.
  • Slightly more than half of all African-American and Hispanic households, 55 and 57 percent, have wired Internet access at home
  • 72 percent of Caucasian households have wired internet access  

Said Pressley, "There are some areas of the city that are underserved, and this may help save money. I know this proposal cannot make a community strong, but it is an idea worth exploring."

Arroyo said he was unaware of how many payphones are in Boston. He said that in the 1990s there were 2.2 million payphones in the country, and 500,000 in 2012.

Arroyo said a Wi-Fi hotspot program would compliment the access already provided by the city at community centers, libraries and schools.

The order was sent to the Committee on City, Neighborhood Services & Veterans Affairs, for a future hearing.

So, of course, now we asked: Where are there pay phones in the Fenway/Kenmore Area?

Tim J August 07, 2012 at 02:32 AM
This is not a good plan. It would be a waste of time & money for anyone involved. It would not help people without internet access. No one in the public arena should be spending their time thinking about this. This story makes a great headline for those who aren't tech savvy because it makes them feel like they are embracing and supporting technology. Unfortunately none of this plan makes any technical sense. This statement is both inaccurate and incredibly misleading: "An increase in wifi would decrease congestion on cell networks." Cell network congestion has nothing to do with helping people without internet access. At first this article infuriated me. First I had to figure out why a public official who is not tech savvy is making a statement about technology. Then I had to try and reconcile why race + low-income neighborhoods are being brought up to justify a program that begins with a statement about iPads. Then I feel I'm being patronized by being told that constituents come up with only *some* of the best ideas. Ok, now I'm not mad. I'm laughing because obviously none of this should be interpreted so strongly. It would be sad if people spent serious time on this. It's just a bad idea.


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