Free Things

Good Thing We’re Tech Bloggers, Or We’d Never Have Noticed The Free Payphone Wifi

Finally, a last-chance opportunity to sync our Instapaper before the subway.
 Good Thing Were Tech Bloggers, Or Wed Never Have Noticed The Free Payphone Wifi

We’d’ve just walked right past it.

Yesterday, New York City rolled out a program turning increasingly useless old payphones into free Wifi hotspots. The coverage has been positive, as one might expect: What’s not to like about free Wifi?

But we do have one complaint: If we weren’t tech bloggers, we probably wouldn’t have noticed that this particular payphone was anything out of the ordinary. 

At left is a picture of one of the repurposed payphone booths, located on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens. (Given that this Betabeat reporter lives in the Borough That Snow Plows Forgot, this seemed like a good test case for the program’s actual efficacy, rather than the showcase in Midtown.)

It looks like a payphone. It still proclaims “Phone” on the front and back. The only mention of the free Wifi available are those two words on either side. Nor is there much indicating that this payphone booth is anything special. And it’s not like these things are as rare as you may be suspecting, either. Once we started looking, we suddenly noticed many, many just like it.

 Good Thing Were Tech Bloggers, Or Wed Never Have Noticed The Free Payphone Wifi

Does anyone even still carry quarters?

Other than that small sign–which is easy to miss–the only way you’d know about the hotspot is if you randomly stopped and checked to see whether you have Wifi. Why anyone would do such a thing is a good question.

Fun fact, though: The phone still works. We picked up the receiver and were astonished to hear a dialtone still buzzing merrily away. Despite the graffiti, it’s not even that gross inside.

The good news is that the Wifi worked like a charm. This reporter was able to cue up the iTunes store, purchase and quickly download “The Motto” and go about her business, one Drake song the richer. A last-chance opportunity to download pop songs before hopping on the subway is a beautiful thing.

Also nice is the fact that the halo of coverage extends several feet from the booth itself.

Because even free Wifi isn’t enough to entice us to cram into a phone booth with a bunch of people we don’t know.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com