Links also offer free phone calls anywhere in the country; the system registers around 200,000 calls each month. The number dialed most frequently? The state’s hotline for its Electronic Benefits Transfer program, commonly known as food stamps.
Since the system launched in early 2016, around 1,250 Links have been erected throughout all five boroughs. The company is aiming for a total of 7,500 Links by 2026, when its contract with the city is scheduled to expire.
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As the first system of its kind, LinkNYC has faced unforeseen difficulties. When the system was introduced, each Link offered an internet browser. But a slew of complaints of users camping out in front of the units and, in some cases, viewing inappropriate content, caused the system to remove that functionality.
The system’s biggest challenge is finding new locations, said Jen Hensley, the general manager of LinkNYC. The system is building a new fiber-optic network, but not every pay phone site is close enough to a manhole to connect to it.
Links generate revenue through advertisements, which appear on the 55-inch screens on the sides of each kiosk. These ads are interspersed with in-house content like “NYC Fun Facts” and historical photos of nearby locations. LinkNYC and the city split the ad revenue equally, subject to an annual minimum.
The system is in a constant state of refinement, with temporary options ranging from time-sensitive to whimsical. Through Jan. 31, for example, users can browse and enroll in health care plans; in December, each Link offered a direct line to Santa’s voice mail.