Written by Christian Scheinert,
The Commission’s initiative aims at providing free access to fast internet in local communities. The European Parliament will discuss and vote on WIFI4EU in its September plenary.
The Commission is of the opinion that the EU lags behind other industrialised nations, such as South Korea and Japan, when it comes to the access to fast fixed and wireless internet. Closing this gap is one of the Commission’s highest priorities. The intention is to create a European gigabit society by improving internet connectivity using optical fibre and wireless networks.
The WIFI4EU proposal is part of that strategy to create a gigabit society, and effectively aims at creating some demand pull. The initiative is meant as a way to boost the awareness of the advantages of high speed internet access with the users, by mounting a scheme offering free WIFI connections in spaces where public services are offered, such as public administrations, libraries and hospitals, but also outdoor spaces accessible to the general public. Targeted financial support would be provided in the form of grants and/or financial assistance for the deployment of local wireless access points. Over a period of three years a total of €120 million of EU investment would be mobilised through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), both through the increase by €50 million of its financial envelope, and the reallocation of €70 million inside the CEF. In addition, planning procedures would be simplified and regulatory obstacles reduced. It is intended to avoid the crowding out of commercial efforts and the distortion of competition.
European Parliament position
The ITRE committee adopted its report (rapporteur Carlos Zorrinho, S&D, Portugal) on 25 April 2017. The report broadly supports the Commission’s initiative, including the financial framework. The committee insisted on the connectivity being delivered free of charge and free of restrictions. It also encouraged to prolong the financing beyond the time span of three years foreseen in the proposal. The scope of potential recipients was slightly modified. A geographical balance should be achieved and the digital divide addressed. Local SMEs should be favoured in procurement. A single authentication system should be used across all Member States, and the mining of data for commercial use should be prohibited, as would be commercial advertisement. The approval of applications should be simplified, and the financial assistance should be done through a system of vouchers. Particular efforts should be made to make potential users aware of the availability of this services, and to insure that the users will be aware it is financially supported by the EU.
Outcome of the trilogue negotiation
A series of trilogues were held. The result, as agreed between EP and Council, reflect most of Parliament’s demands. The most prominent departure from Parliament’s position is a more modest increase of the financial envelope, of €25 million instead of €50 million, although with the possibility to increase it to the full €50 million if that was needed. Also, there is no explicit extension of the scheme past the three years foreseen so far. There is no mention of favouring local businesses. On 29 May 2017 the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee agreed on the draft compromise text. On 21 June the ITRE committee approved the text as agreed in the trilogues, thus paving the way for the final adoption of the legislative act.
Read this Plenary At a Glance note on ‘WIFI4EU – Promotion of internet connectivity in local communities‘ in PDF on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to podcast ‘WIFI4EU – Promotion of internet connectivity in local communities‘