Thousands of aging and neglected pay phones that dot the New York City landscape will gain a new  lease on life under plans unveiled by city government officials on Monday to transform the pay phones into kiosks that  would provide the basis of a free, city-wide Wi-Fi network.

During a press briefing, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said work on the initiative known as  “LinkNYC” would begin next year and that the planned system is expected to emerge as “the fastest  and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world.” The kiosks will provide users with free Internet  access and the ability to place free domestic phone calls through a cell phone or a built-in  keypad. Users will be able to access maps, directions, and city services through a touch-screen  display and will be able to power up their wireless devices through a built-in charging station.  Among other things, the kiosks will also broadcast emergency alerts and provide direct connections  to fire, police and medical emergency services.

CityBridge, a consortium consisting of wireless technology giant Qualcomm, hardware concern  Conmark, and the New York design firm Control Group, has been awarded the LinkNYC contract, which  calls for the installation of 10,000 kiosks that will replace approximately 6,500 pay phones  scattered throughout the city. The project will be paid for through digital advertising to be  streamed at each kiosk location and for which the city will receive a 50% cut of the revenues.  Anticipating that the plan will bring more than $500 million to the city’s coffers over the next  twelve years, an executive of one advertising firm predicted that LinkNYC will “revolutionize how  advertising is delivered in the biggest media market in the world.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for New York City’s Department of Information and Technology confirmed that  the planned network is slated to offer Internet connection speeds that are 100 times faster than  the average municipal Wi-Fi system and that are 20 times faster than the average home Internet  connection in New York City. As de Blasio touted LinkNYC’s expanded broadband access as “essential  for everything we do to be a fair and just city,” Maya Wiley, a counsel to the mayor’s office, predicted that LinkNYC will “help us close the digital divide.”