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17th Jan 2019

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No free EU wifi for UK cities without Brexit deal

  • The EU wants to help municipalities offer free public wifi (Photo: Doris Schuppe)

The EU funding scheme to help European cities and towns set up public wireless internet hotspots will only continue to be available in the UK next year if the EU and UK reach a deal on Brexit.

The European Commission updated its questions and answers page on the scheme, called WiFi4EU, on Monday (19 March).

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It added the question: 'What will be the consequences of Brexit for British applicants?'

"Please be aware that eligibility criteria must be complied with for the entire duration of the grant," the commission stressed in the answer.

"If the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU during the grant period without concluding an agreement with the EU ensuring in particular that British applicants continue to be eligible, the change of the beneficiary's legal situation will imply a cessation of EU funding," it added.

The scheme works as follows.

Municipalities will have to apply for an EU voucher through an EU website, which on Monday was not yet set up. They will then have 18 months to procure and complete wireless internet hotspots.

The municipality then gives the company the voucher, which it can subsequently redeem with the commission.

The EU website to acquire vouchers was supposed to be set up by the end of 2017, but has not yet been completed as of Monday.

Responsible EU commissioner Mariya Gabriel is scheduled to deliver a speech about the fund on Tuesday.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, slightly more than twelve months from now. Interested municipalities that want to be sure that their free wifi systems are paid by the EU, would have to make sure everything is up and running before that.

It is unclear how many UK municipalities would be interested in setting up EU-funded public wifi.

Before Christmas, this website emailed a very small sample of UK municipalities – fifteen – to see if they were interested in the fund.

A spokesman for only one of them, the London Borough of Camden, has responded since then, saying the scheme appeared to be "a potentially interesting opportunity".

The €120m fund was first proposed by commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in September 2016. It was approved by European Parliament and national governments in October 2017.

Municipalities can only use the voucher to cover so-called capital expenditure costs, i.e. the setting up of the infrastructure.

It will be up to the local governments to pay for the internet connections. They will be required to offer the public wifi for at least three years.

The EU's executive has set almost €50m aside in the 2018 budget for the vouchers, which it said could be worth around €15,000 each, but the exact value will be "subject to an analysis of current market practices by the commission".

The commission expected that some 2,500 municipalities will be able to benefit from the fund under the 2018 budget.

The vouchers will be given away through five calls of proposals, under a first-come-first-served principle. However, to prevent that only a handful of member states end up with all the vouchers, under the first call each EU country will receive at least 15 vouchers.

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