By Susan Crawford

July 22, 2014 Bloomberg View - The homely pay phones of New York City are ghostly, graffiti-scarred reminders of an earlier era. But they could play a role in the city's digital environment if New York gets its priorities straight. The crucial step is for the city to treat these pay phones as it does its bridges or trees: like basic infrastructure, not just opportunities for short-term revenue.

Last week, New York received bids from companies interested in replacing the nearly 10,000 existing pay phones throughout the five boroughs with upgraded, attractive structures. The city is calling for free public Wi-Fi, among other amenities, to be provided by the winning bidder.

What's the connection between Wi-Fi and pay phones? Wi-Fi works by opening up the end of a telecommunications wire for shared use by devices using public airwaves for transmitting and receiving communications. Pay phones are connected to communication lines and power, which makes the city's call for them to serve as Wi-Fi hot spots reasonable. For New Yorkers and tourists alike, having free Wi-Fi widely available is crucial.

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