Dozens of LinkNYC kiosks are installed but not activated
BY GABRIEL SANDOVAL,
ANN CHOI AND TRONE DOWD
On city sidewalks, sleek LinkNYC
kiosks stand idle — installed but
“Super Fast Free Wi-Fi Coming Soon!”
declare signs on their displays.
But when, exactly?
At least 50 kiosks — including one
installed as far back as November 2017 —
do nothing but occupy space. Meanwhile,
more than 1,700 kiosks currently provide
passersby with USB outlets, phone access
and pixelated advertisements — but there
are far fewer of them than promised.
THE CITY visited each unactivated
kiosk — all in Manhattan, save for one in
Brooklyn — attempting to use their USB
outlets, tablet touchscreens, phones, 911
buttons and Wi-Fi. None worked.
“They just come and clean it,” said Orlando
Nunez, a doorman at Arthouse Hotel
on West 77th Street in Manhattan, where a
kiosk has sat unactivated since May 2018.
Jovana Rizzo, a spokesperson for City-
Bridge, which runs LinkNYC, chalked
up the nonworking kiosks to “an ongoing
dispute with a service provider.”
“We are working to resolve this issue and
activate those Links as soon as possible,”
added Rizzo, who declined to give more
details, including the service provider’s
A Fine Mess
Representatives of the mayor’s office
and city Department of Information Technology
and Telecommunication, which
administers the franchise agreement with
LinkNYC, didn’t directly respond to questions
about any possible dispute.
But they did say they have fined
“We are disappointed some Links have
not been activated or installed, and will
continue to use every power we have to
ensure the program can deliver results for
New Yorkers across the five boroughs,”
said Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for the
“Yes, we have fined them and will
continue to use all enforcement tools in
our contract if this is not resolved,” added
Feyer, who didn’t say how much City-
Bridge has been fined. “We are extremely
concerned that CityBridge has not met its
contractually obligated targets, especially
in the outer boroughs.”
The franchise agreement directs City-
Bridge to install 7,500 operational kiosks
within a decade.
An orange cover seen late last month
on East 61st Street promises free Wi-Fi
A non-functioning LinkNYC kiosk at 63rd Street in Yorkville promises imminent high-speed Internet, Jan.
— whenever a LinkNYC kiosk is finally
installed. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/THE
But CityBridge has fallen behind schedule.
The company was supposed to have
2,353 kiosks up and running as of this past
July, but fell about 20% short of that benchmark,
according to THE CITY’s analysis of
DOITT data and the franchise agreement.
Only in Brooklyn has the provider put up
more kiosks than promised. As of last year,
The Bronx and Staten Island received 60%
fewer devices than agreed upon.
The agreement says the city can fine
CityBridge $25 per day for the first 30
days that a kiosk “is not timely installed
and operational,” then $50 a day for each
one after. For not activating the 50 kiosks,
per THE CITY’s tally, the city could have
fined CityBridge as much as $1.56 million.
‘Pay Phone of the Future’
In the fall of 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio
unveiled the winner of a contest that
would replace pay phones with a “first-ofits
kind communications network.”
The winner, CityBridge, promised free
Wi-Fi, phone calls and a tablet touchscreen
that could connect users to city services,
such as the information and complaint
hotline 311. The kiosks would be funded
by revenue from advertisements, officials
said, while bringing in $500 million for the
city over the span of the agreement, which
was initially 12 years.
CityBridge calls itself a “consortium
of leading experts in technology, media,
connectivity and user experience.” It includes
Qualcomm, a telecommunications
equipment company; Intersection, an
advertising firm partly funded by Google’s
parent company; and CIVIQ, which specializes
in “smart cities” planning.
The initial word of a contest piqued the
interest of Mark Thomas, a phone enthusiast
who’s ran the Payphone Project, a site
dedicated to the once-ubiquitous street
corner staples, since 1995.
“Anything called the ‘pay phone of the
future’ is going to cross my radar,” Thomas
Since then, he’s kept an eye on the kiosks,
he said. Thomas was perusing the city
website, NYC OpenData, one day when he
discovered a LinkNYC dataset showing the
status of individual kiosks.
“I noticed that some of these inactivated
machines have been out there for years,”
Thomas said. “I mean, the Montague Street
one has been out there over two years, just
taking up space.”
He was referring to the unactivated kiosk
outside 128 Montague St. in Brooklyn,
which was put up on Nov. 9, 2017. It is the
city’s oldest installed but unactivated kiosk.
The LinkNYC kiosk on Montague Street
near Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights
went up on Nov. 9, 2017 and still hasn’t
been activated. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/
In December, Thomas wrote a post,
full of questions for LinkNYC. Among his
queries: Why is CityBridge ripping out pay
phones and putting up orange pylons in
He called the pylons “obnoxious and
maybe dangerous,” and described one on
First Avenue in Manhattan that he’s seen
GABRIEL SANDOVAL/THE CITY
lingering for more than a year.
“It’s got nails sticking out of it and it’s
rotting,” he said.
The CityBridge spokesperson didn’t
comment on why pylons were left on city
“Installations and activations will continue
over the next few years,” Rizzo said.
‘One of the Best Things’
While some New Yorkers view the
kiosks as an eyesore or worry about their
data collection capabilities, others happily
More than 8.4 million unique devices
connected to LinkNYC’s Wi-Fi network between
2016 and last year, according to the
city Department of Information Technology
and Telecommunications. CityBridge
says users make an average 200,000 free
calls a week.
When Sandra White finished shopping
at a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan last week,
she only had 3% battery left on her cell
phone. So, she walked outside, found a
kiosk and plugged in her charger.
“I only use it when my battery’s low,”
said White, 55, of Harlem, her phone cord
She said she had to wait in line because
two people were using the plugs before her.
“It’s very handy,” she said of the
LinkNYC service. “I think it’s one of the
best things the city did.”
This story was originally published
by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit
news organization dedicated to hardhitting
reporting that serves the people of
Schneps Media February 6, 2020 13