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NYC's LinkNYC kiosks have racked up millions in debt

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

You've probably seen the LinkNYC kiosks on sidewalks throughout Manhattan (and in some outer borough neighborhoods)—those looming, metal-and-glass structures with whirling fans inside often displaying art, random city facts and some advertisements. 

The LinkNYC program, which came about to replace New York City's old pay phones with 9-foot-tall kiosks, has come to a standstill with tens of millions of dollars owed by the consortium behind it, according to Politico.

CityBridge and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications installed them in 2016 to provide free wi-fi, wayfinding help and free phone calls to passersby, with the hope that it would create a more open and connected city for every New Yorker in every borough by mid-2019. 

That same year, they revoked local internet access on the machines after reports that users were viewing pornography on them.

As of now, only 1,800 of the agreed upon 4,500 have been installed and most of them are clustered in neighborhoods where people don't necessarily need it, Politico reports.

A glance at LinkNYC's map shows large deserts in southeast Brooklyn and eastern Bronx. But Manhattan, which has some of the most expensive real estate, is peppered with them. Here, many of the kiosks seem to stand alone and unused most of the time. 

It's rare that I see someone making a phone call or charging their phone at one. When I've passed by, I've noticed they don't show what time it is or display useful public transit information, which New Yorkers and tourists alike are most concerned about as they commute across town (not which subway line is the city's longest).

That being said, a rep for LinkNYC told us that 21.3 million calls have been made from LinkNYC kiosks and 8.7 million people have used them for the wi-fi to date. The tech has also raised awareness about major and local elections, even helping register people to vote, she said.

Despite that, CityBridge apparently owes the city "tens of millions of dollars" despite receiving millions of dollars in ad revenue and it stopped installing them in 2018, according to Politico's report. 

The city and the agency are currently working out a plan to "address the financial viability of LinkNYC," CityBridge told Politico.

Hopefully soon, the kiosks will light up across the whole of Bronx and Brooklyn with information and free wi-fi as originally planned. Otherwise, they'll become monoliths representing broken promises.

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