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New York City Subway Stations Get Tricky Free Wi-Fi

After years of waiting, 36 stations in the New York City subway system, including the stations most popular with tourists (Times Square, Rockefeller Center) have been equipped with free wi-fi and voice calling. Trains themselves are not equipped, so visitors will need to conduct their business on the platforms and in the stations.

We spent the past few weeks testing it out. The system is not ideal. Foolishly, Boingo, the operator, sold the project to sponsor HTC and requires users to watch a video ad each and every time they sign in. Signing onto the wi-fi is a long process of locating the signal, opening a browser, agreeing to the terms, watching the ad, then being redirected to yet another page — all before surfing is possible. The timing is not suited to the purpose. By that time, your train will probably have arrived, so if you intend to use New York City's free web access, you have to plan to let a few trains go by before you can finish what you need to do. (Yes, it's safe down there. Manhattan has come a long way since Kojak.)

Still, so far it's proving reliable and fast, and it's nice that the Transit Authority didn't force everyone to use a pay-as-you-go model the way London has, which makes a system virtually useless for tourists.

It's the first phase of a five-year roll-out, but because it centers on the stations out-of-towners use the most, it gives tourists a big boost. Now if only Manhattan could build some more restrooms.