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LinkNYC begins rolling out free gigabit Wi-Fi across New York City

Residents and visitors to New York City will be given access to free high-speed, secure Wi-Fi under a program that will see 7,500 payphones converted into hotspots.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

LinkNYC has installed its first Wi-Fi hotspot, with the program to see residents of and visitors to New York City able to access gigabit-speed Wi-Fi for free through converted payphone booths.

Users can access the encrypted, secure Wi-Fi connection through smartphones, tablets, laptops, and smartwatches from up to 150 feet away from any Link.

The program, still in its beta phase, will see 7,500 Links installed across all five boroughs of the city. It also offers device charging, and will soon provide free phone calls as well as a touchscreen tablet for mobile browsing.

The Wi-Fi is free to use, with the installation also not costing taxpayers anything; instead, the company will make money through the two 55-inch digital displays for ads and public announcements installed at each Link. These displays are predicted to generate over $500 million both for the city of New York and for the company.

The company rolling out the Wi-Fi, called CityBridge, also has a "robust and forward-thinking privacy policy", promising not to share or onsell any personal information collected through the network.

The privacy policy [PDF] outlines what information CityBridge and its parent company Titan Outdoor collects, which includes user names, passwords, and email addresses upon registration.

During use of the Wi-Fi, it also collects a user's MAC address, IP address, browser type and version, time zone setting, browser plug-in types and versions, operating system and platform, device type, device identifiers, full URL clickstreams to websites the company provides, URL requests, destination IP addresses, configuration details, pages viewed or searched for, page response times, download errors, the length of a visit to "certain pages", scrolling, clicks, mouse-overs, methods used to browse away from a page, location information, plus "other information necessary to provide access to the services".

However, the company said all information collected would be anonymized and is only for the purposes of improving the system and providing targeted advertising.

"We don't collect personally identifiable information except what's required to run the system," the company said.

"We will never sell your personal information or share with third parties for their own use."

At the beginning of 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced broadband-upgrade plans for the state in an effort to provide minimum download speeds of 100Mbps to all households by 2019.

The New New York Broadband Program, at a cost of $1 billion -- half from the state, with the remaining $500 million to be provided by the private sector -- would see it provide speeds four times greater than the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) 25Mbps proposed minimum broadband download speed.

"Access to high-speed internet is critical to ensuring that all New Yorkers can reach their full potential in today's technology-driven world," Cuomo said at the time.

"We're launching the largest state broadband investment in the nation in order to make that goal a reality. This is a truly bold undertaking that will improve the lives of New Yorkers in every corner of the state, and I am proud to make it a priority of our administration's second-term agenda."

Earlier in December, Akamai's State of the Internet report revealed that 44 of America's states now have average broadband speeds of above 10Mbps.

The report revealed that the District of Columbia saw the highest speed increase for the year, growing 34 percent to a 19.5Mbps average. New York, Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Utah, and Delaware all had average speeds of above 14.8Mbps.

The global average, meanwhile, reached 5.1Mbps.

In Australia, private telecommunications provider Telstra has similarly been upgrading phone booths to provide a AU$100 million national Wi-Fi network known as Telstra Air.

The Wi-Fi service is only free to use until June 30, 2016, however, with only Telstra mobile and home broadband customers able to access it.

Telstra launched its Wi-Fi network in June 2015, after turning 2,600 of its public phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots.

The Wi-Fi network also makes use of Telstra hotspots at retail stores and customers' own homes, allowing customers to use their home broadband data allowance while away from the home.

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