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Web Browsing Removed From LinkNYC Kiosks Amid Concerns

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)-- LinkNYC kiosks throughout the city will no longer have access to internet browsing.

In a press release Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that due to concerns regarding loitering and extended use of free internet, that browsing capabilities will be removed from LinkNYC tablets.

His administration said that the move will not affect LinkNYC's other services including Wi-Fi, free phone calls and access to key city services.

The web browsing feature will be disabled as of September 14.

"Web browsing will be disabled in a two-phase process beginning immediately this afternoon. The first step will be a testing phase on a few of the kiosks previously used for testing. The second step will be network-wide implementation, which will be complete within 36-48 hours," the mayor's press release said.

Since the project launched, there have been nearly 400 Links installed in three boroughs.

People making themselves comfortable at the kiosks – many of them homeless – was already an issue for some New Yorkers back in June. Many took to documenting the problem on social media.

Murray Hill resident Evan Rofheart told CBS2's Jessica Layton that he has been fed up since February as he watched people camp out at the free Wi-Fi kiosks.

"One individual put a chair here and sat for hours," Rofheart said.

This past weekend at the corner of 31st Street and Third Avenue, one of Rofheart's neighbors snapped a photo of someone who had been masturbating while watching pornography.

Near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, one man sat at a kiosk for 30 minutes as commuters squeezed past.

"He's obviously trying to get something done, so it's no a problem for me," Chris Palatucci said.

But Rob Bijoyan said one homeless man recently spent six hours plugged into a kiosk.

"It is very unpleasant, it actually seems like it pulls these people to the units themselves," he said.

Dorri Olds has a LinkNYC kiosk on the block where she has lived for more than 20 years.

"What I see is people that look very stoned, and they're singing, and I guess they think they're Beyonce or whatever," she told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman.

LinkNYC's general manager Jennifer Hensley said they have heard the concerns loud and clear.

"The changes we've made today are the removal of the web browser on the tablet on every kiosk in New York City," Hensley said, adding they "learned quickly" and are "being responsive."

Back in September, LinkNYC said they were aware of the concerns and addressing them.

"We are in conversations with the city about how to ensure that links remain open and accessible for all, and are not monopolized by any individual users," it said.

City Councilman Cory Johnson (D-3rd) was happy to see the free internet access go.

"You know, I think it's going to make a big difference, but we're going to see it if it ends up putting an end to some of the behavior we've seen," Johnson said.

The web-browsing options will be gone by Thursday night.

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