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LinkNYC Cuts Off Web to Prevent Homeless Watching Porn in Street

Dan Jones
9/14/2016

LinkNYC has solved the "problem" of homeless people surfing the web on their outdoor kiosks all the time by stopping Internet access at the booths, which begs the question of who they expected to be using them in the first place.

"Starting today, we are removing web browsing on all Link tablets while we work with the City and community to explore potential solutions, like time limits." LinkNYC said in a statement Wednesday. (See Qualcomm Spills LinkNYC's Guts and Gigabites: The Big Apple Gets Gig WiFi.)

"Some users have been monopolizing the Link tablets and using them inappropriately, preventing others from being able to use them while frustrating the residents and businesses around them," the statement added.

Translation: Homeless people are hogging the little touchscreens -- sometimes reportedly watching porn -- and generally worrying nearby business.

This is because the 400 units are right out in the street. There are a string of kiosks down the block from our office in the toney Gramercy Park neighborhood. Certainly, if I leave the office at night, it is noticeable that people who at least appear to be homeless are using the terminals.

Street Hassle
The LinkNYC booth in context on 3rd Ave and 17th Street.
The LinkNYC booth in context on 3rd Ave and 17th Street.

I did spot a tourist -- surrounded by fancy suitcases -- charging his phone at one kiosk.

A Big Apple WiFi Beacon?
The terminal on 3rd Ave and 16th Street, awaiting a thunderstorm Wednesday.
The terminal on 3rd Ave and 16th Street, awaiting a thunderstorm Wednesday.

The web shutdown already seems to be underway.

Touch-Sensitive
I couldn't get on the web here on Wednesday afternoon.
I couldn't get on the web here on Wednesday afternoon.

What I wonder, though, is why this is a surprise? Many of us have screens as good -- or better -- on our phones. Why stand there at a booth if I can get on the LinkNYC WiFi for free anyway?

It should have been obvious, on the other hand, that homeless people would use Internet access for a variety of reasons if it was offered for free on the street. And don't homeless people deserve Internet access?

As for exploring potential fixes, shouldn't LinkNYC have just applied a porn blocker in the first place? Businesses do that all the time.

For me, there's a bigger issue than using the tiny touch-screen for web surfing anyway. I've tried to log onto the WiFi service offered via the kiosks multiple times and I can never get online. I can connect to the LinkNYC SSID, it asks me to sign-in, but the home screen never finishes loading.

I've tried with an LG G4 and a couple of Samsung smartphones over the last couple of months. I tried again today at two separate booths. No dice!

Let me know in the comments if you've been having trouble connecting too. Maybe it's just me, but I'm interested to see if anyone else is having issues.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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kq4ym
kq4ym
9/26/2016 | 2:36:24 PM
Re: Clink
With some compassion for those with few or no assets the program should certainly continue and just fix whatever the problem stated is which would simply have officials deciding to just apply a porn blocker.
DanJones
DanJones
9/15/2016 | 4:40:03 PM
Re: Clink
Real talk! Thank you. I wonder why the WiFi is so bad? It is a fiber link to a Qualcomm WiFi chip. Strange.
Kelsey Ziser
Kelsey Ziser
9/15/2016 | 4:37:09 PM
Re: Clink
Link sounds like something that only works "in theory" but I agree with Dan that homeless people should have Internet access. 

I was also reminded of the Portland Loo - a project in Portland to provide clean, outdoor bathrooms around the city to the homeless. Some businesses responded with a "not in my backyard" attitude. *sigh* 
sorabji
sorabji
9/15/2016 | 2:41:19 PM
Clink
They did have industry standard porn filters, the same ones used in libraries and in schools, but determined seekers will get to that stuff one way or another. I think the porn issue is being blown (huh huh) out of proportion. But it obviously makes for good politics.

I also have trouble using the WiFi, though I have not attempted it in a while. Sometimes it worked well enough but it seemed more common that speed was slower than dialup, or that there was no connectivity at all.

I've seen a number of Links where the tablet screen was not working. They stayed that way for months.

The free phone calls are hilarious. You literally have to scream as loud as you can for the person you are calling to be able to understand anything you are saying. 

I honestly wanted these things to be awesome but I can hardly stand to look at them. As far as I can tell the praises of LinkNYC have been sung loudest by industry wonks, "smart city" propagandists, and people who have never actually used them. I don't think this will be the last manifestation we see of CityBridge's poor planning.
DanJones
DanJones
9/14/2016 | 11:43:44 PM
Re: Everything devolves to porn
They have a WiFi hotspot in there too, you can just use Internet at the kiosk touchscreen if you want. Verizon only covers about 25% of NYC residents with FiOS at the moment. Verizon did try something like this once.
steve q
steve q
9/14/2016 | 10:02:40 PM
Re: Everything devolves to porn
Maybe it will have been better if they have a Wi-Fi hotspot in place of the kiosks so they will be able to have more customer using the link NYC service. I'm surprise with Verizon FiOS in NY they would have not provide a way to provide everyone a Wi-Fi hotspot so everyone in the area like business and local customer can use the internet.
DanJones
DanJones
9/14/2016 | 9:46:22 PM
Re: Everything devolves to porn
Or a porn blocker! I feel like free Internet access might be a godsend for some people. Imagine if it is the only means you have to contact your family.
inkstainedwretch
inkstainedwretch
9/14/2016 | 8:36:06 PM
Everything devolves to porn
Should have seen that coming.*

Why wouldn't it be a simple matter of putting time limits on WiFi sessions?

-- Brian Santo

* no pun intended. I swear.
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