EU to launch free 'WiFi4EU' hotspots - deal with EP
The Maltese presidency today reached an informal agreement with the European Parliament on an EU-sponsored scheme, 'WiFi4EU', to promote free internet in town halls, hospitals, parks and other public places. An easily recognisable, multilingual WiFi4EU portal will provide users with a free, secure high-speed internet connection. The local municipality or other public body offering the connection can use the portal to provide easy access to their digital services.
"WiFi4EU will make fast internet available to many citizens who otherwise might not have the chance to experience high-quality connectivity," said Emmanuel Mallia, the Maltese Minister for Competitiveness and Digital, Maritime and Services Economy. "It will encourage the use of digital services and reduce the digital divide, including in places with limited internet access."
Today's agreement defines what the scheme will look like, but its budget will be finalised following the ongoing mid-term review of the EU's multiannual financial framework.
Under the scheme, municipalities, libraries, hospitals and other public bodies will be able to apply for funding for the installation of local wireless access points using simple administrative procedures. The public body itself will be responsible for maintaining the connection for at least three years. Simple funding tools such as vouchers will be provided to cover up to 100% of the eligible costs.
The funding will be allocated in a geographically balanced manner across the EU countries and, in principle, on a first-come, first-served basis. Some prioritisation for applicants from countries with low participation rates will be possible.
To ensure that the financial assistance does not distort competition or deter private investment, only projects which do not duplicate existing private or public internet connections are eligible.
The objective is to have the scheme's budget agreed and the technical work finalised in time to have the scheme in place by the end of 2017.
The presidency will submit the outcome of today's talks for approval by member states in the coming weeks, so that the project could kick off as planned.