How Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Expose New York’s Digital Divide

Author: 
Coverage Type: 

When New York City announced in 2014 that a private company would replace pay phones with thousands of kiosks offering free Wi-Fi, Mayor Bill de Blasio called it “a critical step toward a more equal, open, and connected city.” Five years later, many New Yorkers regard the nine-and-a-half-foot panels as little more than miniature billboards and a source of amusing city trivia. The company behind LinkNYC, CityBridge, has installed just 1,774 of the 7,500 promised kiosks. LinkNYC’s map shows that kiosks are most densely clustered in Manhattan and in its bordering neighborhoods — places where people are not particularly desperate for their services, but where it may be easier for the company, which relies on advertising revenue, to sell ads. Many of the city’s poorest areas have few kiosks, or none at all. 2019 saw concerns over data privacy grow, and some residents say they don’t want LinkNYC to spread any further into their neighborhoods, fearing that the kiosks, which are equipped to collect all manner of data, could be misused. The mayor spoke of a city more united by LinkNYC. Instead, the kiosks seem to point to an enduring divide.


How Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Expose New York’s Digital Divide