With the launch of the WiFi4EU programme, the European Union is pledging €120 million to be put towards free, public Wi-Fi in municipalities across Europe, for the benefit of citizens, tourists, and public bodies.
Internet networks funded by the programme are promised to be “free of advertising, and free of personal data harvesting.”
EU members have been anticipating this launch since the 2016 State of the Union address back in September, in which President Jean-Claude Junker spoke of Europe’s “need to be connected” for the sake of its people and its economy. The WiFi4EU programme was proposed as one of several initiatives in order to pave the way for EU’s Digital Single Market by strengthening internet connectivity in and across member states so they can all “fully engage in the digital economy.”
The current aim is for a minimum of 6-8,000 communities to receive vouchers for the free installation of Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces over the course of the next two years, potentially generating up to 50 million wireless internet connections per day throughout public buildings, city squares, local parks, libraries, museums, and health care centres. The ultimate goal, according to President Junker, is to provide “every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020.”
Funding will be provided to European municipalities on first-come, first-served basis, and in a geographically balanced way – a minimum of 15 vouchers per country. Once municipalities register for the programme, individual vouchers worth €15,000 each will be distributed across member states in four calls over two years, the first of which is scheduled for this coming May, when the first 1,000 municipalities will receive their funding.
Through WiFI4EU, the EU will foot the bill for installing internet access points across participating municipalities, while the municipalities themselves will cover internet subscription fees and maintenance costs. These municipalities will have a choice of where, and in what public centres equipment for new Wi-Fi hotspots will be installed. Where existing networks already offer quality internet connectivity, municipalities are not eligible for funding through the programme.
Wi-Fi networks will be monitored by the European Commission in order to ensure high quality internet connectivity and speed is maintained.
As outlined by the European Commission and reported on in the euobserver, British municipalities who register for the programme will only receive funding for free Wi-Fi hotspots in the event that “the EU and UK reach a deal on Brexit.”
Better, faster internet connectivity will help ensure the free exchange of goods, services, and data across the EU as Europe moves towards a Digital Single Market, an effort that could boost its economy by €415 billion per year.