New York City’s IT and telecoms department is reported to be growing frustrated with the consortium that won a deal to install “smart city” kiosks around the five boroughs, saying the rollout has stalled and the promised ad revenue share hasn’t materialized.
Politico reports that just 1,800 of the planned 4,500 LinkNYC sidewalk totems have been deployed, and most are in parts of the city where the touted key benefits – like free phone calls and WiFi – are not a big deal. People working for hedge funds and living in Tribeca are less in need of free communications services than, say, Central American cleaning ladies scraping by in the Bronx.
“New Yorkers who’d benefit most from this service are not getting it, including thousands of people who live in districts that many of you represent, because CityBridge is delinquent,” Jessica Tisch, head of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications on Tuesday, told NYC City Council recently.
CityBridge has a franchise agreement with the City of New York. It is a group of companies that includes the media company Intersection, smart display designer Civiq Smartscapes, and the telecoms/semiconductor giant Qualcomm.
In addition to providing free Wi-Fi, free domestic phone calls, free internet-connected tablets and free USB charging ports, the Links were supposed to generate revenue through on-screen advertising and throw off half a billion dollars for New York City.
That doesn’t appear to have happened either.
“CityBridge owes the City tens of millions of dollars, going back to [fiscal year] 19,” Tisch said. “All of this is against the backdrop of millions of dollars in advertising revenue that CityBridge has reported they received over the same time period.”
In 2018, New York City agreed to give the consortium more time to build out the network and share revenue with the city. CityBridge in turn promised it would be “on sound financial footing and fully capable of performing all remaining obligations under the agreement,” Tisch testified.
Over the past year, CityBridge has been trying to amend its agreement with City Hall again, a source familiar with the consortium said. The source noted that Link has invested $250 million to build out the kiosk network and provided more than $225 million in free wireless data to New Yorkers.
“CityBridge is working with the City of New York on a plan to address the financial viability of LinkNYC,” CityBridge spokesperson Dan Levitan said in a statement.
The kiosks went in, at least in part, on the premise that they were innovative smart city information stations that would help “create a more equal, open and connected city for every New Yorker, in every borough.”
Most learned observers, if they were being honest about it, could see the things were digital OOH street furniture displays with the added sheen of “smart” stuff, that helped make the project more palatable to politicians and bureaucrats. They have some smart-ish aspects, but LinkNYC exists because it is a DOOH advertising network.
The city is running out of patience with LinkNYC’s backers: Tisch said Tuesday that the city would consider suing to enforce its contract with the firm.”Our patience is up.”
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.