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Will the Free Wi-Fi in Europe Initiative Be Enough?

By Dennis Jones

Will the Free Wi-Fi in Europe Initiative Be Enough?

We recently wrote about the Free Wi-Fi in Europe initiative, WIFI4EU, proposed by EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker, during his State of the European Union speech. If implemented, the project would place open Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces and city centers throughout Europe, as part of the Commission’s larger digital innovation agenda, the Digital Single Market, which attempts to bring down digital barriers across EU member-states and unlock opportunities for digital innovation and transformation.

But like we said, the devil is in the details. And the details that are coming out should give you pause. Our good friend and Wi-Fi Evangelist, Claus Hetting, has written about the free Wi-Fi initiative. The EU’s goal is to outfit 6,000 to 8,000 cities with free Wi-Fi. So far, so good. But how does the EU plan to pay for it? That’s where things get dicey.

As Hetting reports, the EU will subsidize equipment and installation costs to the tune of 15,000 euros per city. The cities themselves will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep, i.e. maintaining high-quality Wi-Fi hotspots for an indeterminate period of time.

Hetting also notes that the WIFI4EU project has to be ratified by a series of political actors, before it actually gets implemented: the EU Parliament and national ministers. So we’re not going to see anything tomorrow. And when these new Wi-Fi hotspots finally come online, they won’t exactly be located where people need Wi-Fi the most.