Article Lead Image

The European Union wants free Wi-Fi for all

By 2020, all public spaces in every E.U. country could have free Wi-Fi.


Chantel McGee


Posted on Sep 17, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 11:48 pm CDT

The European Union wants to bring free high-speed internet to all of its residents. In the annual state of the union address, Jean-Claude Juncker the president of the E.U. proposed an initiative that would give every European country free wireless internet access in public spaces by 2020.

“Everyone benefiting from connectivity means that it should not matter where you live or how much you earn,” said  Juncker.

Ironically, the Wi-Fi connection at the meeting was cut off while Juncker announced the plans.

The goal was outlined in a fact sheet published on the Commission’s website, and it is one of many steps that the E.U. will be taking to improve connectivity throughout the continent and move towards a digital single market. The proposal also includes stricter copyright laws that would give new rights to content creators, and force aggregators like Alphabet Inc.’s Google to pay up for using even a small snippet from an article online.

The European Union will allocate €120 million to install the necessary equipment and make public areas in cities Wi-Fi accessible. European officials say all member countries will have to “fully deploy” 5G networks with minimum speeds of 100Mbps by 2025. The move to “go digital” could be beneficial particularly in rural areas with limited internet access.

However, there is some doubt the E.U.’s goal will be met successfully, and some of that skepticism is coming from inside the European parliament. We spoke with Marietje Schaake a member of the European Parliament and a staunch proponent of digital freedoms. “The Commission will not magically deliver free WiFi in every town and city in the EU by 2020,” she told the DailyDot.

“The Commission’s plans to set 120 million euro aside to pay for public Wi-Fi will of course be welcomed by city authorities, but the real question is how the E.U. will be able to roll out 5G in every European town in the future,” she continued. That question as well as others about the execution of the plans still remain unanswered, leaving many to think this will just be another promise that never materializes.

The EU has been the subject of much criticism as of late, primarily for the handling of its prior pledge to end roaming charges for residents when they are in neighboring European countries. The new plans also addressed this issue:

This is a promise we will deliver. Not just for business travelers who go abroad for two days. Not only for the holiday maker who spends two weeks in the sun. But for our cross-border workers. I have therefore withdrawn a draft that a well-meaning official designed over the summer. The draft was not technically wrong. But it missed the point of what was promised. And you will see a new, better draft as of next week.

Still, this isn’t the digital agenda that Schaake thinks the EU should be pushing forward as the rest of the world is focused on technological advancement. “The EU shouldn’t only be focusing on today’s technologies, but the technologies of the future,” she said.

With the rapid pace of technological innovation, 5G by 2025 may be like 3G today. And the plans don’t clearly state how much—if any—of the funds will go towards possible upgrades for faster future speeds. It’s also still unclear which cities would benefit if the proposed plans are put into place. There isn’t much detail in the proposal about whether funds will go towards increasing internet speed in areas that already have ample free public Wi-Fi access.

Cybersecurity is another concern that wasn’t addressed in the package of legislation from the E.U.’s executive arm. While the proposal mentions security in general terms as it relates to border security, terrorism, and other threats to national security, it does not outline measures that will be taken to secure these open Wi-Fi networks. As the EU’s highest court ruled, businesses offering free Wi-Fi cannot be held legally liable for copyright infringement by users. However, owners of open Wi-Fi networks can still be ordered by the European Court of Justice to protect their networks with a password.

While it sounds good in theory, without proper security free Wi-Fi for all, Europe’s ambitious plan could turn out to be a user’s nightmare and a hacker’s dream if it becomes a reality.

Share this article
*First Published: Sep 17, 2016, 4:56 pm CDT