It is amazing to think that an old relic like the pay phone is still in existence. As surprising as it may be, the City of New York still has around 12,000 of them. As of May 2012, the city set out with the goal of repurposing them through a pilot program designed to retrofit 250 old phone booths with 32-inch, Internet-enabled communication systems known as “SmartScreens.” Designed to be cleaned by a jet hose, SmartScreens are water-proof, dust-proof, and, according to City24x7, are more sanitary than an ordinary ATM. They are ruggedized, weather-hardened, and designed to work on backup power for supporting emergency communications.
Supported by advertising, the SmartScreens are tasked with providing local neighborhood information such as:
- current hyper-local content
- nearby restaurants
- promotions/sales for local stores
- traffic updates
- real-time transit updates
- landmark information
- safety alerts
- targeted community information
- exclusive Groupon promotion
SmartScreens are not simply one-way information displays though, as they will also allow users to file complaints with the city and request municipal information through the standard 311 service. According to the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, SmartScreens will only be installed in locations where two phone booths exist in order to preserve at least one standard phone booth for making regular phone calls.
The project’s operating franchisee, City24x7, reports that SmartScreens will be provided to New York free-of-charge throughout the entire duration of the pilot program. In fact, the city plans to take a 36% cut of all advertising revenue generated from them. If the pilot program proves to be successful, the City of New York intends to eventually add connectivity features like Skype, email access, and even the ability to use the booths as Wi-Fi hotspots. They won’t function as a city-wide wireless network, but nearby individuals will be able to surf with their laptop, smartphone, or tablet PC.
With the current contract for New York City payphones expiring October 2014, the city will use the pilot program as a way to gauge public acceptance of the new SmartScreens technology. If successful, the next step would be to replace the entire city-wide phone booth system with SmartScreens.