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16th Dec 2017

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Free wifi plan backed by MEP committee

  • The EU is planning to spend €120 million to increase the number of cities and villages that offer free wifi (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The European Parliament's industry committee rallied behind a plan to set up an EU wifi investment fund on Tuesday (25 April), paving the way for negotiations with national governments.

MEPs supported a legislative text which amends the original plan by the European Commission on several points, but largely backed the principle. They voted 52 in favour and seven against the text.

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The plan would make €120 million in EU taxpayer money available for “local authorities and providers of public services”, like libraries, to set up an infrastructure that offers free wireless internet access.

Centre-left Portuguese MEP Carlos Zorrinho said the initiative, dubbed WiFi4EU, would “help to bolster the development of a more inclusive European digital society”.

One of the amendments that MEPs adopted on Tuesday was that they said users of the free wifi hotspots should be informed of the contribution of EU money.

Another change said that recipients of subsidies from the wifi fund should offer citizens free wifi “for no less than three years”.

A minority of MEPs opposed the whole plan for being a PR exercise.

Centre-right Belgian MEP Anneleen Van Bossuyt had introduced an amendment to reject the Commission's proposal.

Van Bossuyt, a member of the eurocritical ECR group, pointed out that cities and municipalities that have already installed a free wifi infrastructure cannot apply for money from the fund.

“This way the good students are being punished,” she said. The Belgian also criticised that the Commission's plan was not accompanied by an impact assessment.

A majority of national governments had previously rallied behind the proposal in principle, last December.

They too have a wish list of some changes, including ways to ensure that the money is divided in a “geographically balanced manner across the EU”.

The parliament's industry committee on Tuesday gave MEP Zorrinho a mandate to begin talks with the national governments, to reach a final compromise on how the fund should work.

The proposal was tabled last September after commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in his annual State of the European Union speech “every European village and every city” should have free wifi by 2020.

That promise was unrealistic without additional measures, but EU commission spokeswoman Nathalie Vandystadt told EUobserver in September that the wifi investment fund "is really a first step, and if the demand is higher, we hope to increase this budget".

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.

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.

Analysis

Suddenly, digital single market doesn't 'need' EU agency

EU digital commissioner Gabriel downplayed the rejection of the commission's plan for a strong EU telecommunications watchdog, highlighting that the elements of the digital single market are not set in stone.

EU bans 'geo-blocking' - but not (yet) for audiovisual

Online retailers will no longer be able to discriminate against potential customers based on their location in the EU, but the phrase 'this video is unavailable in your region' will remain a common sight in Europe.

Watchdogs concerned by EU-US data pact

European data protection authorities tell US to improve oversight on 'Privacy Shield' scheme, otherwise they would go to the EU's highest court.

Analysis

Suddenly, digital single market doesn't 'need' EU agency

EU digital commissioner Gabriel downplayed the rejection of the commission's plan for a strong EU telecommunications watchdog, highlighting that the elements of the digital single market are not set in stone.

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