img_2414For some weeks now, work crews have been busy ripping out the pay phones on New York City streets, replacing them with streamlined 9.5 foot high WiFi kiosks that offer free WiFi connection, free phone calls, and USB ports for charging your various devices. Before they are done, they intend to install 7500 of these kiosks.

 WHY AND WHO’S PAYING?

 With the proliferation of cellphones, the old pay phones have become obsolete. You never see anyone using them and anyway many of them don’t work.

So in the name of progress, the City has entered into a 12-year franchise agreement with a consortium that has agreed to install the kiosks at a cost of over $200 million. Here’s the deal: the consortium will pay all the costs of installation, including the laying of fiber optic cables. They will sell advertising on the large lighted panels on the side of the structures and the City will share in the ad revenues. Everybody, it seems, will make a lot of money; the City is slated to receive no less than $500 million over the 12-year period of the agreement.img_2417

 When interviewed by West Side Rag, my neighborhood newspaper, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, one of the groups comprising the consortium, had this to say: “The big goal is addressing digital inequality. . . . Without fast access to the internet, you cannot have equal opportunity.”

 A cynic might suggest that the “big goal” has more to do with the financial arrangements rather than bridging the digital divide, but let that go.

 SURPRISE! SURPRISE!scan-1

 Now it seems that maybe they should have given more thought to just how the opportunity to access free web browsing might work out.

 Homeless vagrants have been pulling up overturned crates or cast-off chairs and couches left for the trash trucks in order to sit comfortably while they listen to music or watch pornographic movies for hours on end. This does not make residents of nearby apartment buildings happy. In fact, complaints have been so numerous that as of September 14, they have had to shut off web browsing altogether.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

 Anne Roest, commissioner of the City’s Department of   Information Technology and Telecommunications admits, “We are going to make adjustments. . . . A lot of these things are things we really weren’t anticipating when we went live.”

 And that’s the way it’s always been.

Life will never go according to the epistles,

Expecting  whistles, flutes,

Expecting flutes, it’s whistles.

“You Never Know,” a variation of Da Bienes Fortuna by Luis de Gongora (1561-1625). The full poem will be found in Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herbert Knapp, to be published very soon by Girandole Books.

Update: Did You See This? is now available from Amazon. You can read a sample at girandolebooks.com