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New York City Issues Request for Proposals to Build Citywide Wi-Fi Network and State-of-the-Art Information Hubs

May 1, 2014

New public communication points to be distributed across the five boroughs to provide free Wi-Fi, free calling to 911 and 311, and at least $17.5 million in annual city revenue

NEW YORK—New York City, through its Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the creation of a robust, citywide network of Internet hotspots that will constitute one of the largest free Wi-Fi networks in the country, greatly increasing access to broadband connectivity across the five boroughs. By replacing the aging network of public pay telephones with state-of-the-art public connection points, the city aims to transform the physical streetscape—and New Yorkers’ access to information—while also creating new local jobs for the development, servicing and maintenance of the structures.

“This administration has committed to making New York City work better for every community, and this RFP for free outdoor Wi-Fi is a down payment on that promise,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “For years, the question was, ‘What to do with payphones?’ and now we have an answer. By using a historic part of New York’s street fabric, we can significantly enhance public availability of increasingly-vital broadband access, invite new and innovative digital services, and increase revenue to the city—all at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.”

“The digital age holds great potential to better deliver services, and by reimagining 20th Century payphones as 21st Century connection points, we’re making broadband access more equitable and accessible to every New Yorker, said Counsel to the Mayor, Maya Wiley. “DoITT is leading the way for a more wired city. I commend the agency for its work on this initiative, as well as the hundreds of individuals from across the city and country that have provided valuable feedback as we crafted this solicitation.”

“The release of this RFP is the result of a series of initiatives that imagined the future of the payphone, from piloting Wi-Fi hotspots to gathering ideas through a popular design challenge,” said acting DoITT Commissioner Evan Hines. “Building on DoITT’s digital inclusion efforts, this RFP represents an opportunity to innovate the existing payphone network to offer an unprecedented level of connectivity to all New Yorkers, including free citywide wireless access. We look forward to seeing these new valuable services established in all five boroughs.”

“Further developing New York City’s connectivity is imperative in order to keep our city on the forefront of the digital age,” said New York City Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball. “This initiative, which will result in the creation of one of the largest free Wi-Fi networks in the country, adds to our existing programs, such as ConnectNYC and Wireless Corridors, positioning New York City to be a global leader in the quest to facilitate wireless access for all New Yorkers.”

“The transformation of the public pay telephone from a 20th Century relic to a 21st Century resource is an exciting proposition for Brooklyn’s future. I’m enthusiastic about DoITT’s exploration of new and innovative ways the city can expand free public Wi-Fi and Internet access through this infrastructure. It is good to see government in the business of enhancing communication and information utility for every New Yorker, in every neighborhood,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

“This announcement is an exciting step toward the future of communication infrastructure in New York City. A network of 7,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots at payphone locations around town will significantly improve the tech quality of life for New Yorkers and visitors alike, while maintaining the option for voice calls when needed, including 911. I look forward to working with DoITT, franchisees, and local community groups to ensure a successful deployment,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

“DoITT has come up with an exciting and cutting-edge plan on how to utilize our aging public payphones, while still ensuring their role in public safety. This new RFP will open up Internet access to millions of New Yorkers and tourists and will burnish our reputation as the leading city for technology in the United States,” said Council Member David G. Greenfield, Chair of the Land Use Committee.

“Internet access needs to be more readily available to the public, and reinventing payphones to include free Wi-Fi is a terrific way to do that. Due to the widespread use of cellphones, payphones, as they currently exist, no longer provide significant assistance to New Yorkers. However, by modernizing this infrastructure and utilizing the latest technological advancements, we could provide vital services to hundreds of thousands of residents. I am thrilled the project is taking this next step forward, and I am excited to see the results,” said Council Member James Vacca, Chair of the Committee on Technology.

“In today’s world, access to communication networks goes way beyond traditional telephone calls. I look forward to seeing the proposals for the next generation of public pay telephones in New York City,” said Council Member Mark S. Weprin, Chair of Zoning and Franchises.

“Availability of free public Wi-Fi service is the cornerstone for the Mayor’s goal of making New York City the most wired city in the world,” said Andrew Rasiej, Chairman of the NY Tech Meetup. “This innovative project will also support the New York City tech economy, which cannot continue to grow unless all New Yorkers have open access to the Internet and all its resources.”

“Design thinking is the glue that brings many stakeholders together to solve complex problems and capture the city’s collective imagination about connectivity citywide. This creativity and drive to change 20th Century obsolescence into a 21st Century opportunity will dramatically improve our streets, our neighborhoods and our daily lives,” said Susan Chin, Executive Director of the Design Trust for Public Space.

“We’re very happy to see this administration take such a bold step forward in promoting ubiquitous free Wi-Fi Internet access,” said Dana Spiegel, Executive Director of NYCwireless. “If this is any indication of things to come, we’re very excited about the city’s commitment to open, competitive and innovative solutions to bring the Internet to everyone.”

“This is an exciting reimagining of our telecom infrastructure. Such innovation takes us a step further toward building technologically advanced business districts with essential 21st Century resources like free Wi-Fi, virtual kiosks and more. We look forward to working with DoITT to build a truly connected city for our residents, workers and visitors,” said Alliance for Downtown New York President Jessica Lappin.

This RFP was developed following a lengthy public outreach process that began in 2012 when DoITT issued a Request for Information (RFI) about the future of the payphone. Through the subsequent Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge in 2013, the city engaged urban designers, planners and technologists to create physical and virtual prototypes to imagine the future of these structures. The city received more than 125 submissions, featuring a variety of innovations, from augmented reality and hyper-local sensors to voice and gesture controlled kiosks.
Based on public input, the new RFP is structured to allow the maximum range of proposals—from relatively simple designs to more elaborate, high-tech communication devices with a variety of service offerings and capabilities. In addition to 24/7 free Wi-Fi, the communication structures will continue to offer phone services, including free 911 and 311 calls. New services may include cell phone charging stations and touch screens that provide information or facilitate business transactions. These installations will also provide the city with an additional means of disseminating emergency notifications and information during citywide events. Proposers are also encouraged to include the use of independent power sources, such as solar energy.

Designs will be evaluated on the basis of functional efficiency, aesthetics, security, durability, adaptability for various environments around the city—including historic districts and individual landmarks—and accommodation of people with disabilities. Preference will be given to proposals that demonstrate the greatest public benefit from the services and the local economic opportunities presented by this initiative. In addition to the creation of new jobs for the development, servicing and maintenance of the communication structures, the city expects that the services themselves will help support job seekers, freelancers, residents in need of affordable broadband services, small businesses, the local tech industry, and visitors.

The winning proposal will provide for the installation, operation, and maintenance of up to 10,000 public communication points distributed across the five boroughs. These structures will replace and supplement the roughly 7,300 current public payphone installations across New York City. New structures will be funded primarily through the sale of digital advertising in commercial corridors and must be deployed within four years. The franchise will produce $17.5 million in guaranteed annual revenue for the City of New York through the end of the franchise in June 2026.

For more information, visit Responses to the RFP are due by June 30, 2014, at 5 PM. The city anticipates the signing of a contract for this initiative by the end of 2014.

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