An example of a new 5g LinkNYC tower presented by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
The LinkNYC kiosks that now allow phone calls and offer free wifi are being expanded to become much taller 5G cell towers too, and the design was just approved by the Public Design Commission.
But the approval only applies to commercial and industrial areas, and a debate has opened up about whether they’re appropriate for residential blocks. The commission did not approve them for residential areas, saying there needs to be further study.
Citybridge, which operates the towers, fell behind projections for revenue-sharing payments to the city because it didn’t sell enough ads on the kiosks, according to Crain’s. The 5G upgrade would mean the company could make more money by renting space to telecom companies.
“Signe Nielsen, president of the commission, said the panel will reconsider allowing the equipment in residential and historic districts once there is more financial data on the rollout for the rest of the city,” Crain’s reported.
The kiosks were meant to bridge the digital divide by offering free wifi in neighborhoods where people don’t have access to fast wifi service. But they’re now clustered largely in wealthier neighborhoods.
UWS preservationist group Landmark West! submitted testimony urging the commission to decline the proposal or at least restrict it so the towers don’t end up in historic districts.
“When first introduced, LINK promised to replace pay phones and fire call boxes, offering to bring equity to internet access citywide for ‘free,'” the testimony says. “Now that the city has lost its fire call boxes, lost its payphones, and created 24/7 distractions of moving advertising at street level for block after block, only to be denied tens of millions of dollars from our coffers, we are simultaneously told that this just-installed infrastructure is obsolete and warned that we cannot have the promised infrastructure unless we give away more of the city…While we may have all gotten a little bigger during the pandemic, few perhaps have grown at the rate of the LINK kiosks, which have both widened and more than tripled in height over five years.”