Monday

24th Apr 2017

Analysis

Juncker's unrealistic promise of free wifi

  • Dublin used to have free wifi, until the company that provided the service went bankrupt (Photo: Neil Turner)

It was one of the more bold statements in EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's state of the EU speech on Wednesday (14 September).

“Everyone benefiting from connectivity means that it should not matter where you live or how much you earn. So we propose today to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020,” he said.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Juncker wants "to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020". (Photo: European Commission)

Free wireless internet in public places all over Europe, to be established in the next four years.

Can it be done? How? And should it be done?

“That's a good question,” said Aurelie Bladocha, a lobbyist for the European Competitive Telecommunications Association.

She noted that it was difficult to make an assessment of the feasibility of Juncker's statement, although in principle “it makes sense to have involvement of the public sector” in certain rural areas where the commercial incentives for improving internet connectivity are low.

It is “rather ambitious”, another Brussels-based telecommunications expert said.

That may be an understatement.

According to Eurostat data this website combined, there are around 129,000 municipalities in the European Union, or about 119,000 if you no longer count those in the United Kingdom.

The operation to equip 120,000 villages and cities with public wireless internet is gargantuan.

It is unclear how the commission will carry out the work: it does not have the power to force municipalities to install free wireless internet in public places.

Also, did Juncker mean free wifi, or a different technology like the upcoming 5G network? The latter is highly unlikely, since that would mean the EU would be competing with telecommunications operators. Let us assume that he meant wifi.

The commission did on Wednesday publish a proposal for a regulation which would set up a wifi investment fund.

The EU “should support the provision of free local wireless connectivity in the centres of local public life”, the legal text said.

€100 per village or city

The fund consists of €120 million.

That would translate to roughly €100 per municipality, which does not sound like an awful lot.

“Oh no, that is definitely not enough,” Ilse Marien of the Free University of Brussels told EUobserver. Marien researches digital inclusion policies.

She could not give an estimate average of how much the establishment of free wifi costs, but some ad hoc figures do exist.

A 2006 plan to cover the Czech capital of Prague with wifi budgeted around €12.2 million for a five-year period, while the Finnish city of Oulu spent €2.5 million for a project of two and a half years.

The €120 million budget, reallocated from other parts of the EU budget, will be “allocated in a geographically balanced manner” to projects “in principle, on a 'first come, first served' basis”.

According to a promotional factsheet published by the commission, the fund would benefit "at least 6,000 to 8,000 local communities".

Even then, money alone is not enough.

“You also need people who take up the role of pioneers and convince the rest of the municipal office”, said Marien.

Dublin's wifi: can't connect

Sometimes businesses step in to provide the service.

Last month, the British city Newcastle and nearby town Gateshead announced a free wifi programme that they said did not cost the municipalities anything.

But such deals are not always a success.

The Irish capital Dublin had, like several other cities, signed a contract with the Spanish company Gowex to provide free wireless internet.

“Gowex filed for bankruptcy in July 2014, and under the terms of the agreement the company continued to provide the service until May 2015,” said a spokesman for the Dublin City Council, adding that there is currently “no public free wifi available” in Dublin's public places.

“Having assessed the effectiveness of the wifi arrangement and its uptake by the public, Dublin City Council is currently investigating the business case for a replacement service,” the spokesman added.

Moreover, when relying on commercial companies, there is a risk of “cherry-picking”, said researcher Marien. She noted that businesses may require certain conditions, and refuse to roll out wifi in less populated areas.

Is it necessary?

Another question worth raising is whether by 2020 the European Union needs free wifi anymore.

Smartphones have become a familiar sight in the smallest of villages and more and more telecom operators offer subscription plans that cover average consumers' needs for internet access. Moreover, newer technologies may make wifi superfluous.

With the rise of connected cars and the internet of things, a much more advanced mobile network called 5G is required, Paul Meller of DigitalEurope told EUobserver.

DigitalEurope is a Brussels-based lobby group representing IT, telecoms and consumer electronics companies.

Meller said the wifi plan is “not really a big deal” in terms of importance when compared to the development of 5G, which the EU Commission is also promoting.

“The speeds you will see on 5G by today's standards will be breath-taking,” said Meller. “Wifi is important, but it's going to become a smaller part of the overall picture.”

No legal target

Juncker's remark on free wireless internet by 2020 is not backed up by any legally set target.

The regulation does mention 2025 as a target year by which public places “such as public administrations, libraries and hospitals” are all “equipped with gigabit internet connections”, referring probably to connections with speed of a gigabit per second.

Strangely, the new legislation also seems to discourage day-dreaming while waiting for other things.

“Free local wireless connectivity made accessible in busy places where many people gather and await the next step on their daily agenda can provide significant added value by allowing idle and transit time to be converted into productive, relaxing or more informed experiences,” the proposal said.

States seek softer access to EU wifi fund

Free wifi for all? Not on the current EU Commission proposal, which lacks the funds, MEPs say, and which could come at a price for users' privacy.

EU targets Google in copyright reform

Publishers welcomed EU proposals for a new right that could see them take a bite out of Google's income, but some say the law could end up hurting Google's smaller rivals.

Analysis

Juncker's unrealistic promise of free wifi

The commission president said "every European village and every city" will have public internet access in 2020, but the statement was not backed up by any legally binding target.

News in Brief

  1. Defeated Fillon retires from French politics
  2. Hollande: Vote Macron to avoid 'risk' for France
  3. Italy misses deadline on air quality warning
  4. Land mine kills OSCE observer in Ukraine
  5. Italy prosecutor claims NGOs are working with migrant smugglers
  6. Danish defence hacked by Russian cyberspies
  7. EU trade commissioner in US to pick up TTIP talks
  8. Juncker to meet Soros on Hungary next week

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  2. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  5. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  6. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  7. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  9. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  10. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  11. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society

Latest News

  1. Le Pen-Poutine: des liens qui remontent à loin
  2. Juncker breaks tradition with support for Macron
  3. Les fake news inondent les réseaux sociaux français
  4. Les amis de Le Pen à la Trump Tower
  5. France's election run-off will be far-right versus EU
  6. Alternative for Germany party refuses to shun extreme right
  7. Brexit summit, Turkey and Hungary dominate EU This WEEK
  8. Russia threat triggers European military spending hike

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  2. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  5. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  6. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  7. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  8. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  10. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  11. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy