At Third Avenue and East 16th Street on a February morning five years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio called 311.
The call marked the first use of LinkNYC, the 10-foot-tall obelisks that on top of offering free digital calls, the mayor said, would blast out "the Wi-Fi network New York City deserves—the biggest and fastest in the world and completely free-of-charge."
New York's private partner, CityBridge, would replace old pay phones with a modern network of 7,500 kiosks spread throughout the five boroughs, offering free Wi-Fi, phone calls and USB charging ports—all paid for with digital advertising dollars, of which the city would get a cut worth hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade.
But almost halfway through the 15-year contract between the city and CityBridge, the vendor fell behind nearly $60 million on payments to the city and had installed fewer than 2,000 kiosks. The majority have gone to wealthy neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, failing to address disparities in internet access among the city's richest and poorest neighborhoods. The last new Link went live nearly three years ago.