Wi-Fi? Why Not? Homeless Are Avid Users of NYC’s Free Kiosks

An ambitious effort to replace obsolete New York City pay phones with Wi-Fi kiosks that offer free web surfing and phone calls has been a hit with panhandlers and the homeless, the least wired people in the city.

The city doesn't track who is using the kiosks, but anecdotal evidence suggests many users of the new LinkNYC terminals are living on the streets. On several recent weekdays, people wearing plastic garbage bags or hauling dented shopping carts were hunkered down at terminals in Manhattan.

"It's free. That's the best part about it," said a tall man drinking a beer out of a paper bag as he watched an R. Kelly video at a terminal on Eight Avenue in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.

The man, who would give only his street name, "Beef Stew," said that besides listening to music, he uses the sidewalk kiosks to charge his phone.

Matthew Kane, 46, was sitting in front of a LinkNYC kiosk on Eighth Avenue last week charging his phone and holding a cardboard sign that said, "She Had a Better Lawyer." The sign was effective: One man gave Kane a $20 bill and another gave him a slice of pizza during the space of a five-minute conversation.

Kane, who said he was staying with acquaintances "here and there," guessed about half of the people he sees using the kiosks are homeless.

"It keeps people connected to the rest of reality," he said.

The Wi-Fi program is a public-private initiative run by CityBridge, a consortium of tech companies.

The first units were installed in January 2016. There are now about 350, mainly along Eighth Avenue on Manhattan's west side and Third Avenue on the east side, with plans for 7,500 or more throughout the city.

The two sides of the narrow kiosks are digital billboards that display paid advertisements. Revenue from the ads...

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