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KCBS Interview: Google Considers Transforming New York City Pay Phones Into Wi-Fi Hotspots

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Pay phones, often thought of as things of the past, may see new life as Google is considering a plan to turn them into in Wi-Fi hotspots in New York City, according to published reports.

Susan Crawford, a visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School and a former Obama administration technology adviser, told KCBS that she thinks it's a great idea to use pay phones as 21st century infrastructure.

"They're magic in a sense. They're connected to telecommunications lines and power. So you can imagine having pay phones all over the city that have been turned into Wi-Fi hotspots and also charging stations and information kiosks for tourists," she said.

But in order to have a solid Wi-Fi connection, there needs to be fiber connection and many payphones are copper wired.

San Francisco, she said, has a lot fiber that it could use with these pay phones to make the Wi-Fi experience worthwhile and that it could generate money for the City. It's a better experience for visitors and business people who could continue working when they leave their office.

Crawford said the payphones could also become a branding opportunity for the companies providing the Wi-Fi and that gives the City advertising revenue.

"It's a win-win situation," she said.

Some of the big internet service providers like Comcast are already expanding their Wi-Fi hotspots which allow customers who already have a home plan to use them. They now have about a million such spots across the country and that gives them a dominant position.

But the New York plan is to have free public Wi-Fi for everyone, without subscribing.

"If the City does this right in New York and feeds the pay phones with fiber that could very disruptive to the cable dominance of the street," Crawford said.

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