Commission welcomes Member States backing for plan to make free WiFi4EU available in public areas

Less than three months after the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, unveiled a scheme to help local authorities offer free Wi-Fi connections to people living in or visiting towns and villages across the EU, Member States have already given their backing for the WiFi4EU initiative. Last Friday, during the Telecoms Council, EU Ministers approved a partial general approach on the Commission’s proposal to bring free Wi-Fi to the main centres of community life. With the first call for projects expected to be launched before summer 2017, any local authority in the EU will be able to apply for a voucher and provide high-quality internet access in their parks, squares, public buildings, or libraries. On 14 September, President Juncker said in his State of the Union Address: “Everyone benefiting from connectivity means that it should not matter where you live or how much you earn. So we propose today to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet ac­cessaround the main centres of public life by 2020.” Thanks to the efforts of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ministers in charge of Telecoms have agreed with the Commission’s proposed funding scheme: WiFi4EU will be funded by the Connecting Europe Facility instrument. While keeping geographically balanced distribution between Member States, vouchers will be allocated on a “first-come, first-served” basis. Local public authorities wishing to offer Wi-Fi in areas where a similar public or private offer does not yet exist will be able to apply for funding via a simple and non-bureaucratic process.Total funding of €120 million has been earmarked for the 2017-2019 period. The Commission estimates that at least 6000 to 8000 local communities will be able to benefit from the scheme.