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20th May 2019

Exclusive

Brexit cities want free EU wifi before leaving

  • The Ryedale Folk Museum. Ryedale is one of the UK districts that applied and were awarded with a €15,000 voucher to spend on wifi infrastructure. However, 55 percent of Ryedale's citizens had voted in favour of Brexit (Photo: James Stringer)

A majority of the 15 municipalities from the United Kingdom that have been granted a €15,000 EU subsidy to set up free wireless internet, had voted to leave the EU, an analysis by EUobserver shows.

They include the Welsh country borough of Blaenau Gwent.

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  • Isle of Wight (62 percent in favour of leave) also wants a public wifi hotspot, paid for by the EU (Photo: Ronald Saunders)

In Blaenau Gwent, 62 percent of voters ticked 'leave' in the 2016 referendum.

Nevertheless, the local authorities asked Brussels for a voucher to set up free wifi for their citizens - and received it.

The Isle of Wight also voted to leave the EU, again at 62 percent, but still applied for the free wifi scheme.

Other pro-leave municipalities, districts and county boroughs that have been awarded the voucher are Caerphilly, Darlington, Knowsley, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Ryedale, and Swindon.

Across Europe, the European Commission has so far awarded 2,800 municipalities with a voucher worth €15,000, that can be used to contract a company to set up the infrastructure for a free public wifi hotspot.

Some €120m has been set aside for the programme, called Wifi4EU.

The vouchers were distributed according to a first-come, first-serve basis - with the condition that every EU member state would receive at least 15.

Since only 15 UK municipalities were awarded a voucher, this suggests that UK towns were not very fast in finishing the registration process.

From tiny Cyprus alone 19 municipalities have successfully applied for a voucher.

Municipalities had been required to pre-register, and respond twice in a call for proposals after the first one was cancelled due to a technical glitch.

Of those 15 UK municipalities, eight had voted to leave the EU in the 2016 in/out referendum.

When including the 13 UK municipalities on the commission's reserve list, the share of leave towns is even greater: 62 percent of the municipalities that applied for a free EU voucher had voted leave.

Compared to the rest of the EU, the UK's interest in the scheme is low.

The UK municipalities will have to move fast, or hope for the Brexit deal agreed between the EU and the UK to be adopted in the UK parliament.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal after 29 March, the UK towns will no longer be eligible for the voucher, and will have to pay for the wifi infrastructure themselves.

Alternatively, it could be that citizens will not have free wifi in public spaces after all.

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