This one came as a bit of a surprise to everyone - Juncker announced his plan to bring free Wi-Fi to the main public areas of each and every EU town by 2020 in his 2016 State of the Union without any warning. That's why some people are calling it a PR stunt with little real budget behind it. However, it is also part of the Commission’s Digital Single Market concept and in line with the Commission’s efforts to bring high speed Internet to all citizens and to all corners of the EU.
If you live in a town or city, that does not offer very high-speed free Wi-Fi – either through a private or public service – you might be in luck and could soon enjoy surfing for free on your town square or at the public library (IF your local community or library actually applies for the program). This is also very important for people who might not have access to the internet in their home or current accommodation, think refugees, homeless or poor citizens.
The proposal with the funky nickname “Wifi4EU” - brought to you by Commissioner Oettinger - wants to pull off free Wi-Fi for EU citizens in public spaces, like parks, libraries or squares. But even though Commission President Juncker suggested that every town should have this, the proposal is more realistically aiming to cover 6000-8000 local communities in the EU by 2020.
The EU will provide €120 million between by 2019 to set up the infrastructure for free Wi-Fi, e.g. the equipment and installation, while the local authorities will have to pay for maintaining the Wi-Fi and the monthly fees charged by the internet providers. It is unclear how much it will cost to provide free Wi-Fi to one community and since the program will work on a first-come-first-serve basis, applicants better be quick!
Local communities or public entities like libraries or public hospitals have to apply for the EU money and only places without existing high-speed private or public Wi-Fi offers can benefit from the initiative. Also, the public body will have to keep the new connection for at least three years. The Commission promises that the applicants will have to deal with very little bureaucracy, e.g. the application can be done online and communities will not be burdened with heavy monitoring requirements.
The free networks will be easily recognisable to citizens under the WiFi4EU brand and MEPs demanded that they will form an EU-wide network with a single authentication system - which means you can log in with one account in all the "WiFi4EU-Hotspots" in Europe!
The proposal was dealth with by the ITRE commitee in the European Parliament, which presented its position in May 2017. By that time, the Council had already agreed on its own position, and shortly after, the two instututions came up with a deal. This agreement was then approved by a formal vote in Parliament and in the Council in the autumn of 2017. The first call for projects is expected to be launched towards the end of 2017 or in early 2018.
Yet, we should not forget that in some countries there are other hurdles besides money that prevent city authorities from providing public Wi-Fi. The ECJ, for example, just issued a ruling in September 2016 that may require open Wi-Fi spots to have passwords and ask for the user's identity to prevent copyright infringements.
Cross-border portability: Access to streaming services from abroad
Geoblocking: Less consumer discrimination online
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