Some of us are still pinching our arms and rubbing our eyes to see if we’ve been reading this right.
But yes, it’s true. EU Commissioner Juncker announced in his annual ‘State of the Union’ speech last week that the EU plans to subsidise free City Wi-Fi across Europe to the tune of 120 million EUR by 2020.
But can it happen? Will it happen – and if so, how? These are the looming questions. And there is still a lot of work for the Commission and its partners to do to get this off the ground.
First let’s get the facts straight: The EU wants to equip 6,000-8,000 cities with free Wi-Fi by subsiding equipment & installation costs. If you work out the subsidy per city (assuming that the 8,000 is right) that would amount to about 15,000 EUR per city. The cities are then expected to pay maintenance and ‘subscription costs’ themselves. The statement (see the PDF below) also says that communities need to commit to ‘very high Internet’ speeds.
Finally the proposal still has to pass both the EU Parliament and national ministers’ approvals. The statement also says that new city Wi-Fi networks cannot compete with existing Wi-Fi services, commercial or otherwise.
This is pretty much what we know about this initiative at the moment. The good news of course is that this would be a huge boost to the Wi-Fi industry in Europe and not least provide lots of underserved communities with free Internet access.
Both are likely to stimulate job creation and – with some creativity and thoughtful effort – would create a new platform for more public bodies to enter the Digital Age. And yes, there are communities in the EU that are underserved by service providers of any kind. Not everything in the EU is the land of plenty, as many seem to believe.
For what it’s worth, at Wi-Fi NOW we have pledged our full support of this proposal and we will do everything in our power to support it. Now there will of course be companies and individuals (especially in the cellular industry) who will resist this tooth and nail and likely spend large sums of money on lobbying against it both nationally and at the EU level.
But remember this: In the grand scheme of things 120 million EUR – or a mere 15,000 EUR in equipment subsidy per community – is a small amount. Cellular is a trillion-dollar global industry that should comfortably be able to accommodate this with no losses of significance.
At the same time, the fixed telcos will likely benefit from the backhaul services that will be needed to support community Wi-Fi.
Below: The official statement on the ‘WiFi4EU’ initiative as released by the EU Commission last week.