We’ve mentioned in previous editions of Voice of Russia’s ‘.RU’, that Moscow students may soon enjoy wireless connectivity in their dorms – albeit, a limited version, which only allows access to educational web destinations. Meanwhile, it’s quite easy to get online in Moscow for free – granted, you can afford a Wi-Fi device.
In the last few years it’s become a standard for various venues to offer such perks to visitors. Cafes, bars, restaurants, even parks and subway lines – if an establishment doesn’t provide Wi-Fi access, it’s considered odd. As I’ve said, this has become the norm. You can imagine my surprise when I visited the United States and realized that across the Atlantic this has yet to become a thing.
There is another solution to bringing Wi-Fi to the masses, though. Remember phone booths? You know, those weird glass boxes with a wired phone which seem more like a monument to the pre-internet era than something useful. Well, unless you’re a drug dealer, cheating spouse or someone else who prefers anonymity to convenience? In any case, New York City currently has somewhere around 7300 payphone booths – and it’s looking for ways of making them relevant once again. A document released by the New York’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), the agency spearheading the renovation project, shows that a total of 60 companies, including Google, met in May to discuss the ambitious plan of installing public Wi-Fi spots across Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island – making sure that both locals and numerous tourists can go online anywhere at any time. Apart from Google, other tech heavyweights include IBM, Verizon and Samsung.
As you can see, it’s possible that any of tech giants – or their combination – will offer their vision of utilizing hundreds of payphones which have fallen into disuse. If I were a betting men, I’d say Google is the company I’d choose. The Silicon Valley giant has already made a splash in the broadband internet market, offering Google Giber – gigabit-speed landline internet which blow competition out of the water. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to expand its fiber network to nine major US metropolitan areas – currently it’s available only in a handful of small cities. But, let’s get back to New York. Under the mayor's new plan, contracts for phone booths – regular and those which were already refitted under previous contracts - would be issued “for the installation, operation, and maintenance of up to 10,000 public communication points distributed across the five boroughs,” the city said in a statement earlier this year. But for those who value their old-timey way the kiosks will also continue to offer payphone service.
I’d say that people benefitting most from this initiative will be tourists. We’re so used to having the world at our fingertips in the form of a always-online smartphone that we suffer when we suddenly can’t have it. Or we can, but it’s just too expensive. Starhome Mach Company has published a research indicating that a whopping 68% of cell phone users across the globe don’t use roaming services. Even 58% of EU citizens, despite roaming charges being regulated by legislation, prefer not to use their domestic phones abroad. Using mobile data is even less of a priority when roaming – users are afraid of excessive fees. Having easy to access Wi-Fi would certainly alleviate this situation.