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New York has removed the last city-owned public payphone

In a nutshell: It’s the end of an era in New York City as municipal officials removed the last public city-owned payphone this week. The relic, a holdover from before the days of cell phones, harkens back to an earlier time in our technological evolution.

In 2012, NYC officials announced a pilot program to replace some payphones with Internet-connected touchscreen kiosks. Just eight months after launch, however, the city was forced to disable web connectivity on the units as they were attracting large crowds that would engage in all sorts of inappropriate behavior including using the kiosks to watch pornography.

LinkNYC, the company that runs the kiosks, still operates them albeit without Internet connectivity. Today, they offer free Wi-Fi connectivity as well as access to maps and public service announcements as well as USB ports for charging your devices.

The last remaining public payphone was picked up from Midtown Manhattan on Monday. It was transported to the Museum of the City of New York where it will be part of an exhibit dedicated to pre-digital life in the city.

“As a native New Yorker, saying goodbye to the last street payphone is bittersweet because of the prominent place they’ve held in the city’s physical landscape for decades,” said Matthew Fraser, NYC’s commissioner of the Office of Technology and Innovation.

It may be hard for some to imagine but it wasn’t all that long ago that landlines were the standard when it came to real-time voice communication. If you were away from home and needed to make a call, the nearest payphone was where you went.

It’s worth noting that NYC still has a handful of private payphones that remain on public property. These “Superman” style booths are located on West End Avenue around 66th, 90th, 100th and 101st streets according to a report from Gothamist.

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Image credit: LinkNYC, Dave Bledsoe

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