Bronx goes online with free Wi-Fi

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Veronica Tutton’s phone was nearly out of battery power, and she was nowhere near her home. Usually, she would ask local restaurants to let her use their outlets, but this day was different: A newly installed LinkNYC kiosk was dispensing power and free Wi-Fi on Jerome Avenue, near the Kingsbridge stop on the number four subway line.

“I’m just grateful they were able to put something down here so we could charge our phones,” she said.

The city is installing LinkNYC kiosks to replace outmoded phone booths. The kiosks provide free Wi-Fi, serve as charging stations for mobile devices, and allow free domestic calls and emergency ones to 911. More than 700 will be installed over the next few years in the Bronx.

Representatives of tech companies, the city’s IT and Telecom Department, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Council Member Fernando Cabrera and other politicians gathered in the west Bronx last week to praise the installation of the first kiosks in the borough.

Five have been installed so far along Kingsbridge Road, and more have appeared in other parts of the Bronx and throughout the city.

“They’re pretty cool,” said Gail Pittman, who was using a kiosk on Kingsbridge Road to charge her phone. “They’re good in case of emergencies, definitely. You’re trying to contact family… And, hello! They’re free. You can beat that especially compared to the old pay phones.”

“This is definitely a step up from the old phone booths,” said Phillip Whetstone, who saw one of the kiosks for the first time.

“It’s about time that there’s a chance for modern technology. Not only that it’s around but people have a chance to interact with it more frequently,” he said. “To see a station like this … make[s] using it a bit more easier, is very helpful.”

But within a mere two days after local residents praised the kiosks on Aug. 31 afternoon, at least one of the “links,” on the intersection of Jerome Avenue and Kingsbridge Road, had stopped working by Friday afternoon. The reason for the breakdown was not immediately clear.

And some New Yorkers have already started to put the kiosks to unintended use – watching pornography. Although the incidents were first reported in Manhattan, Bronx officials are concerned.

“In order to prevent the usage of these kiosks for unsavory purposes…the city should prevent over-extended usage of the kiosks by requiring registration and by placing a time limit on how long a subscriber can use one, much like the technology used by unlimited MetroCards that prevent a rider from using the same card for at least 18 minutes,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., said in a statement.

Ms. Pittman, who was charging her phone at one of the kiosks on Kingsbridge road, said she had not seen any unsavory usage happening, but given the concerns, the city should block pornography and prevent people from “using [the kiosks] for something negative.”

“That takes away from somebody that needs it. In case of emergency, the first thing you see on it is 911,” she said.

The LinkNYC project is looking for ways to improve “the Links,” which are yet “in the early phase of deployment,” Ruth Fasoldt, a spokeswoman for project, said in a statement carried by WABC TV.

“We have heard the community’s feedback and are actively working with those communities and the city to test potential adjustments to LinkNYC in response to their concerns to prevent any of the Links from being monopolized by any individual or groups of users,” she said.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera said in a statement that he has “allocated funds for additional security cameras throughout District 14, which will increase overall safety as more Links are activated.”

He urged the city’s IT and Telecom Department and the tech consortium CityBridge that built the kiosks “to continue monitoring this project throughout the city and to make appropriate adjustments to ensure success in each community.”

Some glitches aside, “the links” received cheers from Bronxites. Ms. Tutton, who was using a kiosk to charge her phone on Jerome Avenue, said she was thrilled by the convenience of the innovation.

“It is amazing. It is so useful in every which way. Whenever you need your phone charged or when you need to make a phone call,” she said. The links were also helpful for getting directions, she said.

Ms. Pittman was similarly enthusiastic: “I thank New York City, you know, for the free phone. We need a lot more.”

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